Pioneers: Harriet Ann Blencowe: 1831-1868
and Graham Berry: 1822-1904

Harriet Graham

Photos held in the State Library of Victoria , Australia

What a thrill to read Igor's account of Harriet Blencowe's niece, Mary Blencowe in a recent edition of this newsletter. Igor's account led me to further investigate the family background of Sir Graham Berry, who married Harriet Blencowe in London in 1848, when she was 17, and he was 25 (one month after Graham's illegitimate daughter Eliza Jane Letts was born).

It seemed, having read Igor's account, there might be more to Graham's and Harriet's socio-economic backgrounds than I'd previously thought. All we knew of Harriet's father, deceased by 1848, is that he was a tailor in Chelsea. Graham was a draper in Chelsea. Graham spoke with a thick cockney accent all his life, and was derided by his Parliamentary colleagues for this, a reaction which included dislike of his anti-establishment politics. Harriet's brother, Samuel Blencowe, six years older than she, was sent away to boarding school, and looking more closely at his story, one gains the impression of quite a cosmopolitan family with greater opportunities and wealth than your average working class family. So was Graham's background similarly somewhat privileged?

One of the things which intrigues and frustrates me the most about genealogical research is how little we can glean, usually, of the women’s lives and stories. It is through the lives of the women, though, that I have been able to learn more about Graham Berry.

There is quite a bit of information on the internet about Graham Berry. In the 1860's he was a member of the Legislative Assembly first representing East Melbourne, then Collingwood, then Geelong. He was owner first of the Collingwood Observer, then the Geelong Register, then purchased its rival the Geelong Advertiser.

His first wife, Harriet nee Blencowe died in 1868 of "childbearing convulsions" bearing her 13th baby, who also did not survive. The previous year another daughter died at 19 days old. The photo of Harriet shows her holding her deceased daughter Jessie, who died at 11 months old, in 1861. It occurs to me that Harriet was simply worn out when she died.

Harriet and Graham arrived in Melbourne in November 1852. When the family boarded the Marlborough in August, Harriet had two year old Harriet Mary and two month old James in tow. They came as Intermediate (unassisted) passengers, and Graham possibly had quite a bit of capital when he arrived. Before they emigrated, Graham and Harriet, in 1851, were living in Chelsea, on Beaufort Street, (below) with one 19 year old female servant in their employ.

Beaumont St

Graham's father died the year Graham and Harriet married, bequeathing a substantial amount of property and assets to his wife Clara and their children, including Graham. Graham's mother Clara and his widowed sister Mary Ann both owned houses on Beaufort Street in 1851, a few doors up from Graham and Harriet.

What the internet and history books tell us of Graham Berry's background is that he was born in Twickenham, in 1822, and that his father was a licensed victualler. As Graham was a "Draper" and his father Benjamin a "Licensed Victualler", it would seem Graham came from a humble family, especially when you note that Benjamin's occupation was listed as "Servant" on Mary Ann's and Graham’s baptism records (the two eldest children). However, when I looked at all the records available on a broader picture was painted.

Benjamin Berry's occupation changes from Servant to Grocer to Publican as the years go by. For years, a third cousin of mine surmised that Benjamin must have been gifted with a bonus from a Gentleman employer in the early days of Benjamin's marriage. However, I managed to trace Clara Berry’s father Joseph Graham a little better, and by deciphering his will, it became obvious that he was a very wealthy man.

It became apparent that the house, in which Graham was born, on August 28th 1822, in Twickenham, was a summer residence: that the family’s main residence was in Chelsea. Benjamin owned the pubs of which he was the publican, and over the years he came to own a good deal of valuable real estate in Chelsea and Kensington. He may have been aided in his purchases by the working knowledge of his daughter Mary Ann's husband, who was a real estate agent.

The picture painted by the history books is that when Graham arrived in Melbourne, he set up a Grocery business in a tent on the edge of Gardiner's Creek in Prahran. It was not long though until he was the owner occupier of a grocery store, from which he and Harriet made a very good income.

Berry grocery

I feel certain that Harriet's hard work and support contributed to their success, a notion which is never mentioned in descriptions of Graham's life and career.

The year after they arrived, Graham's mother died, and as he is not mentioned in her will, I wonder if he was given his "inheritance" before he left for Australia, or perhaps his siblings conferred some of their mother's inheritance when Graham returned to London in 1856 (leaving Harriet, one imagines, to mind the business, as well as their four children, the youngest of whom was two months old).

When Graham returned, my great-great grandmother Emma was conceived. Six years later, in 1863, when Graham and Harriet were the parents of seven children, and Harriet was four months pregnant with her 10th baby, Harriet's mum came to Australia, presumably to live with them. She did this the year after Harriet's only sibling, Samuel, died. Harriet's mum survived her daughter by 9 years, dying in Heidelberg. We do not know whether she continued to live with her grandchildren or not after Harriet’s death.

After Harriet died, Graham quickly took up with a young lady who became his second wife. Rebekah Evans and her family lived on the same street in West Geelong as the Berry family.

In 1868, at the age of 16, Rebekah Evans was teaching at the Flinders National School. It seems almost certain that Rebekah and Graham’s first child, Ethel Kate, for whom there is no birth record, was born in 1869, before Graham married Rebekah, a marriage for which there was no announcement in the paper, but which is dated 1871 in the registry.

Incidentally, Rebekah's younger brother, Alexander married Graham's daughter Emma in 1877: Alexander and Emma were my great-great grandparents.

In the 1870's Graham was three times the Premier of Victoria, also Chief Secretary and Treasurer. From 1886 to 1892, Graham was appointed Agent-General of Victoria to London, where he was knighted for his services, and where the family lived in Kensington, which they loved.

Royal Terrace gardens

Before he left for London, Graham Berry was visited by William Barak, Aboriginal elder living at Corranderk, who presented Graham with a few honorary items. Graham Berry's attitude toward indigenous Australians is an aspect of his character of which I am the most proud.

In 1894, back in Melbourne, Graham was appointed Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, a position he filled for three years, and then he was on the Committee for Federation, which drafted the Australian Constitution (enacted 1900) along with Alfred Deakin, who was a friend, and who, when Graham died in 1904, gave Graham a State Funeral at which he gave the eulogy (Deakin was by then Prime Minister).

The last paragraph in the Australian Dictionary of Biography description of Graham includes this: "His political success was founded on a remarkable persistence, despite great difficulties and even disasters; it was derived partly from ambition but also from a consuming desire to serve others and relieve the afflicted, which amounted to a sense of mission. He had abundant nervous energy and an ability to arouse enthusiasm and loyalty by his impassioned oratory and warm personality which developed rapidly as he gained success and confidence in the 1870s." An ancestor, of whom I can be proud, married to a Blencowe who must also have had great character.

Genevieve Ahearne,
Rye, Victoria, Australia