Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Jessie Archer Coulson: My Indomidable Grandmother

Jessie Archer Coulson’s arrival In New Zealand.

As many of you may know, I am currently on an extended gap year (now in its third year) in Europe. This is wonderful from a history inspiration point of view, but not quite so hot when wanting to refer to all those genealogy notes back in the understair cupboard at home in Leamington, New Zealand.

Despite this lack I wanted to get a few notes down on paper (or rather, uploaded to the cloud) about my maternal grandmother, Jessie. (I welcome any comments and corrections, and additions)

Jessie was the fourth child in a run of daughters born to John Archer Coulson and his wife Jane Jacklin. It took me many years of genealogical research to realise (doh!) she was named after her mother. Jessie is a pet form of Jane, and seems to be interchangeable with Janet and Jean in many of the Scottish and north of England censuses. (or should that be censi?) And of course her middle name honours her father. This seems so appropriate because although she spent most of her long life separated from them, her family were a central foundation for her life.

As I understand it, Jessie stayed on in Strathcona, Alberta for several years after her parents and younger siblings left Canada. One of her tasks was to wind up the family’s business affairs in the town. She was also studying and working as a student teacher, and in 1916 was living with her married eldest sister, Bertha.

In this time, World War I had broken out, and as in New Zealand, the loyal Canadian colonists were eager to enlist. Jessie had several regimental keepsakes from young men who went off to war, and she always kept a locket with the photo of one who never returned. My auntie Ruth has a poignant letter we believe to be from this man, written on leaving Jessie as his regiment departed for the fighting in Europe.

I believe Jessie made the trip to rejoin her family at the end of the war. By this time they had moved from Western Australia to New Zealand. My mother told the story of Jessie making the Pacific crossing, arriving in New Zealand and catching the train to the Wairarapa area, where her family were based, all on her own. Brave woman. And on arrival at the railway station, there was no one to meet her, so she just got on with it and carried her bag up and over the hill to the farm house. Not just brave, but indominable!

She soon secured a teaching job at the Rongomai School, near Eketahuna. This school no longer exists, and even the local hall, a rural social hub in its time, has disappeared. (was it moved or demolished?). The new teacher with the funny accent needed somewhere to live of course, so she boarded with Charlie and Kate Evans, whose house was on the other side of the road. She ended up marrying Charlie’s youngest brother Frederick John (but always called John), my grandfather. It’s hard to believe when you stand at this country crossroads that this location was so important to our family history. There is no remnants of human habitation visible there: my great uncle Charlie’s house is long gone too.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. You can feel the family connections there though and reflect on all the stories.