On 16 April 1794 John and Ann Speechly carried their baby daughter Ann to church to be baptised. John worked as a thatcher and the couple lived in Whittlesey a large farming village east of Peterborough in the Cambridgeshire fens.
In 1788 John had married his first love Rose Oldfield but two years later Rose died giving birth to their daughter Mary. A few months later Mary died too leaving her father a childless widower.
John married a second time in1791. His new wife was Ann Wilks. Their son John was born in 1793 followed by Ann in 1794. So while Ann was her mothers first daughter she was her father’s second.
In 1798 Ann and John had four children. A second son Robert was born in 1795 and in 1797 a daughter Mary. Perhaps there was an epidemic in the village because Robert and one of his sisters’ were buried within two days of each other at the end of May 1798. The vicar seems to have been distracted because he entered the name Ann daughter of John Speechly in the burial register. Two years later John and Ann named their third son Robert. He was followed by Thomas who died shortly after his birth. Matthew baptised 1804 was named after his maternal grandfather Matthew Wilks. George was baptised 1805, a daughter Mary in 1806 and James in 1808. Mary died aged 3 months in the spring of 1807. This time the vicar entered the correct name in the burial register. Given that this was the second daughter in the family named Mary it seems likely that the vicar had entered the death of Ann in error. It should have been Mary’s name he entered in the burial register for May 1798.
By 1809 John and Ann had produced 10 children. Of their ten babies one daughter and five sons had survived. In October of that year Ann died aged 44 leaving her 15 year old daughter to care for her father and brothers. The youngest child James was just over a year old. For seven years until 1816 Ann ran the family home and cared for her siblings.
1816 became known as the year without a summer. A cloud of volcanic ash from an eruption on an island in the Indian Ocean, spread over Europe and blocked out the sun. It resulted in a poor harvest. The price of wheat increased and bread was expensive and in short supply. On 28 August Ann married 25 year old John Loomes a Whittlesey labourer three years her senior. The couple settled in the village and two years later their first son William was born. By the 1830’s five more sons had been born to them and John was finding it difficult to get work. With the ending of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 soldiers had returned home, in search of work, prices were high and there was a trade recession. It was a time of poverty and extreme economic hardship. Two of John and Ann’s sons died as babies and by 1834 the family was relying on parish relief. A local magistrate Charles Smith aware of the family’s plight arranged for them to have a passage to Australia aboard a ship that was taking single women to Australia at the request of the Australian Government. John Marshall agent to the emigration committee describes John as “a poor man of industrious character.”.
So on Thursday 10th July 1834 Ann, John and their four surviving sons set sail from Gravesend aboard the David Scott. They arrived in Sydney on 30th October after a voyage of three and a half months.
By the time she and her family left for Australia Ann was 40 years old her husband John 43 and all Ann’s brothers were married with young families. Her first letter home and the only one to survive was dated 19 December 1834 and addressed to her” father, brothers and sisters all.” As Ann had no sisters of her own she had adopted her brothers’ wives as sisters. Of Sydney she wrote “You never saw such a beautiful place in your lives for London is nothing to it.” She and her family had been in Australia just six weeks but already John had work. They had become the tenants of Charles Cowper , were living in a wooden hut forty miles outside Sydney and had two cows and forty acres of Indian corn outside their door with “ cobs as long as your arm.” John had wages and their food was also provided. Their master wanted a gardener and had asked Ann to write to her brother James with a view to employing him. James worked as a gardener at home in England and Ann is eager for her youngest brother and his wife to join them. From the letter it seems that the possibility of James coming to Australia was discussed before Ann and her family left England. After the cold poverty and hunger of the fens she tells her family “bless God we are in “a land of plenty”. Beef that was hard to come by in Whittlesey was abundant in Australia. Sugar, tea, and tobacco were affordable and Sydney was a good place for those seeking work as blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters and shoemakers. Although the weather on the long voyage was good with only one severe storm Ann was sea sick for three weeks so she advises James to bring brandy with him “in case of sickness in the ship.” In spite of the perils of the voyage she was eager for James to join her in Australia. His presence she says will be “ a great comfort to me”. She admits to being homesick and shedding many tears since she left home .Although Ann is delighted with her new country she misses her friends and family, wants her letter passed round for them all to read and sends her love and God’s Blessing with a kiss for all her little nieces and nephews. An Australian address where they can write to her is included in her letter with a request that they send her all their news “ as soon as they can.”
Sadly for Ann, James and his wife didn’t come to Australia. He and his brother George with their wives sailed for New York in 1836 and eventually settled in Michigan.
In Australia Ann and John added to their family. Edward was born 1837 and a daughter Martha Ann in 1839. Ann’s only daughter died aged fourteen months in 1840.
Early in the 1840’s the family moved to the Bowning district a settlement north west of Sydney with an aboriginal name that means high hill. A document dated 20 April 1857 records the purchase of land at Two Mile Creek by John Loomes. The 1865 Electoral Roll shows John Snr, John Jnr , James and Edward Loomes living at Two Mile Creek also known as Sheepstation Creek. The sheep returns for Yass, the district which included Bowning show John Loomes living at Sheepstation Creek and having 500 Sheep. Clearly the family had prospered and John’s industry had been rewarded.
Ann’s comment in her letter home that the Australian weather “is very hot but healthful” proved to be true. John died in 1873 aged 82, while Ann died on 13 November 1881 aged 87. The Yass courier of 19 November 1881 reports Ann’s death noting that until the last weeks of her life she had regularly walked into the town a distance of over two miles. She was one of the town’s oldest residents having lived in Bowning for nearly 40 years and “was well known and respected by everyone.”
All of John and Ann’s sons lived to old age. Their family had thrived in Australia. Although Ann never saw her family again the links between her English and Australian descendents are maintained thanks to modern technology while the survival of documents records the courage and determination of Australia’s earliest free settlers.
Parish Registers for Whittlesey Cambridgeshire.1788-1834
Ann Loomes Letter home. - Australian pamphlets XV11 La Trobe collection State Library of Victoria.
Yass and District Historical Society Records - Purchase of land by John Loomes 1857 NSW Australia.
1865 Electoral Roll for Yass NSW
Sheep returns for Yass. NSW
Yass Courier 19 Nov 1881- Obituary of Ann Loomes
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