Thursday, 3 December 2015

Family Roots, Family Ties

You might have noticed that my family brand forms part of my company logo.  To me, this brand is not just a nod in thanks to my ancestors for their fortitude and resilience; it also symbolizes some of the personal characteristics that I hold most dear.  I represent the fourth generation of my family within my community and am most fortunate to be living in the very same home my father and myself, along with my brother and sister, were raised in.   I remember my brother saying once, how awful it would feel to drive by our family home with his kids, explaining that this was where he grew up, and not be able to go in.  It's not all fun and games; it was a painful process emptying the buildings of my parents' treasures, re-homing what I could within the family but ultimately selling a goodly portion to strangers.  We had no choice but to remove the garage my father built when he came home from the war as it was threatening to fall down; the same fate met our 100 year-old barn which had no life breathed into it through multiple renovations and the pitter-patter of the feet of five generations of children as it went from a home for livestock to the keeper of valued treasures that someone in the family wasn't quite ready to part with. Oh, the treasures that old building once held!

James W. & Catherine (Davis) Marles
But this story isn't about the barn, it's about one of my early ancestors, James Marles, who homesteaded about a mile northeast of my family home.  Born in 1849, he immigrated with his family as a very young child, from England to Albany, New York.  He lived in various parts of the US, homesteading in Sacramento, CA when he was 21.  There are many stories about this man:  that he sold newspapers on the streets of New York with Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931); that he cast cannons in Troy, New York, for the American Civil War (1861-1865); and  that it was tales of the California Gold Rush (1848 - 1859)  that lured him to California.  While one might think the first story is credible, Edison was born in Ohio, later moving to Michigan, where he sold newspapers on trains on the line between Port Huron and Detroit.  As child labour was commonplace at that time, and he was apprenticed at the Burton Ironworks, it's quite possible he contributed to the production of  Civil War artillery.  And while tales of the California Gold Rush may well have piqued his interest, the Gold Rush had come and gone by the time he entered onto the scene.  

What we do know for certain, is that James returned to England before sailing to Sydney, Australia, with a friend.  They travelled north, up the Clarence River where James was able to to put his American steam engineer papers to work.  He met and married my great grandmother, Catherine Davis, from Maclean, NSW on October 7, 1880.  The two remained in NSW for the next 25 years, eventually calling Coffs Harbour home, where they homesteaded and are considered founders of the community.  James hauled timber with a team of 14-16 oxen, when he received the contracted to supply the pilings for the first harbour jetty.  They started the first store which became so successful they eventually had 3 more branches in surrounding towns.  James hauled gold 50 miles from mines to the bank; was paymaster for all the local lumber companies; and appointed Justice of the Peace and aboriginal agent. My research suggests that he was an ardent champion of his community or, in the words of the local newspaper, an agitator, lobbying for post and telegraph as well as the extension of the local road network.   He also appears to have been a fair and very well respected man, as the community threw him a very well documented farewell party, right down to who said what and what songs they sang.
Scroll Presented to James Marles by the Coffs Harbour Community

In 1906, after nearly 30 years in Australia, James and brother-in-law Jack Davis traveled to Central Alberta in search of a  new place to dwell.   He reported his experiences to the local newspaper in Coffs and it is this letter that I now share with you.  James was not only very observant, he was a very articulate individual.  I admit, a few remarks do not sit well with me; that said, I remind myself that, while I might consider them inappropriate, this was not the case more than 100 years ago.

COFFS HARBOUR TO CANADA   (By James Marles)

I am writing, trusting that you will help me to redeem my promise to a number of friends of mine and subscribers of yours; to give, through the columns of your paper, some of my first impressions of the places I have seen en route and of Western Canada. The voyage over was of that pleasant kind usually called uneventful. I enjoyed it - all care, if I ever had any, was gone. The call at Brisbane (10 hours) and Suva, Fiji (21), and Honolulu 12 were pleasant changes. At Suva we took on 5000 tons of raw sugar. The labour - most of it - in connection with loading was done by the natives, who received, we were told, l s per day and food, principally rice, which they cooked themselves. They were very big follows; I think they would average the strongest men 1 ever saw. The place itself did not strike me as being very well built, considering its trade. Some of the natives have red hair, supposed to be due to their habit of using lime on their heads. Honolulu is better built and brighter than Suva. The private residences in particular are beautiful, and the effect is enhanced by the wealth of perfect foliage and flowers that grow with little care. The ox Queen lives there in real good style. We passed their place going to the Aquarium. Most places of interest can be readied by electric tram service. A very considerable part of the business is done by coloured people.  Taps, Chinese, Indians, and natives, grades of mongrels shaded all the way from Yankee tan to black as the ace of spades. They are to be seen in the public offices presiding in desks, business men and whites intermarry with them. They have become accustomed to that degradation, and could not realize the reason why a decent Australians' ideal is for a clean white Australia.

On arrival at Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, which has a population of nearly 21,000, I found a white man's country and a credit to the Empire, and the public buildings are grand, and the private residences evidence a well to do people. English grasses cover the lawns, the fruit trees are loaded, and my first impressions of Canada are very favourable. A run of seven hours and our steamer arrived at Vancouver, the end to our ocean trip, 'on the 28th of September, The time from Sydney to Vancouver was 24 days. Vancouver is the principal city commercially of British Columbia and the largest.  It has a population of nearly 31,000. I stayed only until the next morning, so i am not in a position to describe the many interesting places 1 have read of in and about Vancouver, but in passing may say that all I saw and heard indicated great prosperity and rapid growth, It is quite possible that we may finally settle in British Columbia. My next start was for Calgary, Alberta, by train 842 miles. On this trip we crossed the Cascade and Rocky Mountains, and thoroughly enjoyed the grand varied scenery which great writers have confessed themselves unable to do anything approaching justice to, when attempting to describe what they saw. That part of Alberta west of Calgary and east of Banff, adjacent to the railway line, has been described as good agricultural land. This I cannot agree with. I class it a fair cattle run, miles being the first of the prairie country I saw. I feared that all I had heard or read of Alberta might be equally misleading. We found Calgary very cool, it is a nice little city with 9000 or 10,000 of a population, it is in great ranching centre. The railway repairing shops are there, and quite a number of wholesale houses distribute from this centre. A spur line runs north from it to Edmonton, nearly 200 miles distant. It was along this line that I purposed to look for land before I left Australia, and so after 21 hours in Calgary started north. My first stop was at Red Deer, 100 miles from Calgary, a town of 1100 to 1300 inhabitants and growing fast, it has a dairy factory, elevator, and flour mills in course of construction. I omitted to state that on getting two or three miles out of Calgary 1 was very pleased to notice the very great improvement in the country.  Homesteads', stacks of grain and hay, while herds of sleek horses and cattle dotted the prairie as far as the eye could behold, and the railway cuttings exposed the deep black soil which has the reputation of being very productive. From a sporting point of view it is very hard to beat, lots of ducks on the sloughs and watercourses, and chickens on the prairie. Tills class of country was the rule as far as we could judge from the train. I might mention that there are quite a number of stopping places and townships varying in size from a few houses to nearly the importance of Red Deer. 1 found the farming country around Red Deer very good, and prices of improved places seemed to me low, from £2 to £4 per acre, according generally to the distance from town. I was quite satisfied to settle in this district, but decided to see some of the unsettled ports before buying, so I joined a party of homeseekers, as they are called here, going east to Island and Gough Lakes. A new spur line of railway is being constructed to tap this country, it was a seven day trip, and I am obliged to say it was the trip of my life. Of course we lined two or three wet-rag fellows, who declared they were cured at night, sleeping on mother earth, when we did not pull up at a hotel, but I felt no inconvenience. As for game, such as prairie chicken, (ducks, and rabbits, we could shoot all and more than we required without going more than a short distance from the vehicles we rode in. The prairie chicken excels, in my opinion, any poultry or guinea I ever tasted. We saw some good country, and great herds of cattle, fat and well-bred. The leading breeds are Shorthorns, but Herefords and Polled Angus are a plenty, although the winter at times is severe, not one of these range cattle are provided with shelter. Stacks of wild hay they are fed, only in severe weather.  Half of the party homesteaded; that is they will get 100 acres for £2. The conditions are that they reside six months of each year for three years, and cultivate a portion of the land. This enables a poor man to work for others six months of the year. The outposts of civilisation were always an attraction to me, but I had a growing family to consider, and on that account I purchased 320 acres of improved land 12 miles southeast of Red Deer. We are near to a school; the Methodists hold service one mile away, and the Presbyterian Church is two miles away. The neighbours are high-class settlers, and from the house I live in, which is on a rise, over 40 homesteads can be seen. One man near here had a paddock of full wheat of over 50 bushels to the acre ; about 55 acres oats 40 to 70 bushels to the acre with potatoes, turnips, and carrots, reaching in some years to over 100 bushels per acre. There are troubles here the same as elsewhere ; unseasonable frosts and hailstorms. The winter is long, and at times very cold. I |may be able to give you an idea later on, but it has not been bad yet. The old hands say still it was 22 below zero last Sunday. It is now 45. We took provision of the farm on the 18th October. The ground did not freeze until the 28th November, which was unusually late, and enabled me to get over 50 acres ploughed. 1 am ahead of the old hands in that respect.  The old-timer here dates back 10 to 11 years.
Key to the City of Coffs Harbour

James and Catherine had 12 children, one of which died at birth and two others in childhood.  They remained in the Willowdale district until 1917, when the family moved to Calgary where he ran a store.  James passed away in 1925, after which his wife, Catherine, returned to Central Alberta, until her passing in 1942. 

My grandmother (also Catherine) was 16 years old when the family immigrated to Central Alberta.  She eventually married the boy next door, Arthur Hoskin, my grandfather.  As a young man in poor health, it was suggested that perhaps a more humid climate  might be helpful; he returned to Coffs with my grandmother and his eldest daughter, where their second child, Mary was born.  It wasn't long before they returned to the Willowdale community to raise their family.  Mary was presented with the keys to the City of Coffs Harbour, as a daughter of the community's founding father, James Marles.


The friend James traveled to Australia with had the last name of Manson.  While  my great grandfather chose to leave Coffs, the Mansons remained and so the connection between the Marles and Manson families continues to this day. I believe we might be working on ties that go back five generations.  You have to admit, that is pretty darn cool!