Andrew Wilson
(Cir 1824-1854)
Eliza Caffery
(Cir 1826-1890)

Eliza Wilson


Family Links

1. Henry William (Harry) Martyr

Eliza Wilson

  • Born: 17 May 1854, Armagh, Northern Ireland UK
  • Marriage (1): Henry William (Harry) Martyr on 21 May 1878 in Wesleyan Church, Prahran, Victoria, Australia
  • Died: 23 Jan 1946, Murumbeena, Victoria Australia at age 91
  • BuriedFem: 24 Jan 1946, Cremated at Springvale Crematorium, Victoria Australia Cremated Remains Scattered

  General Notes:

The conditions in Ireland during the famine years, must have been horrific. Researching this epoch has made me aware of so many of the difficulties, frustrations and fears that families had to face every day. To see all the sweat and blood they poured into caring for those crops, slowly rot away must have been torture. A successful crop means not only food for empty stomachs but was essential for them to pay their rents. Trying to survive an Irish winter without food or even a roof over their heads meant a slow and painful death for so many.

In desperation to feed themselves, many ate the rotten produce only to be consumed with cholera or typhus. I have also learned that it was not only the famine that the Irish had to contend with, but also uncaring landlords and harsh laws. The infamous potato famine was reported as early as 1845 culminating to disaster in 1847, also known as “Black 47”, with the effects felt for many years. A further 2 million more were forced to emigrate. The population went from 8 million in 1841 down to 6.5 million in 1851. It was such conditions that would have been prominent in my ancestors' minds, when they made the decision to emigrate to Australia.

My great great grandmother, Eliza Wilson was born 17 May 1854, in Armagh, Ireland. Her parents Eliza & Andrew Wilson were farmers, and had somehow managed to survive these distressing years. Ever hopeful for a better life, it was on 10th January 1858 on the ship “Conway” that they set sail for Australian. How hard it must have been to leave their homeland and all that was familiar to them.

Eliza was only a child of 4 years when she took this journey. She would not have fully understood her parents' fears and hopes. She may have even been a little excited about taking this journey, looking at it like an adventure. Emotions would have been running high as they watched their homeland slowly disappear from sight, leaving behind friends and family, knowing that the chances of ever seeing them again was very remote. They had to supply their own food and linen. A journey such as this, which was to take three months, would have taken much organisation and planning.

Travelling along with Eliza and her parents were her siblings, William 7, Robert 6, Francis 2 and Helena who was an infant. With such a young family, Eliza's parents would have found themselves very busy. They would have had to take their turn in using the facilities to prepare meals, bedding and clothing to be cleaned or aired, as well as being very frugal with their daily allowance of food. It would have been a trial getting used to the constant swaying motion of the ship. Some of the family may have been struck with seasickness, straining the need for clean clothes and linen. Hopefully their living area was on the upper decks where some ventilation was available; otherwise the stench would have been revolting as well as unhealthy. What trials and tribulations, families must have experienced on voyages such as these. I can easily see Eliza's mother with tears of relief when mainland Australia was finally sighted. Three months at sea would have been so hard on the whole family, but to a 4 year old it must have seemed an eternity.

My Wilson family settled on 20 acres of land at a place named “Black Flat”, Mulgrave that today is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria known as Glen Waverley. The original name coming from the rich black soil in the area. The family is documented as growing the first strawberries in the area, which they became well known for. They also grew vegetables and apples. Their first home was made of wattle and daub. The Wattle Tree is native to Australia with narrow finger sized leaves and has a fluffy yellow blossom with a fresh sweet aroma. When the leaves are mixed with mud and left to dry, it hardens and becomes a hardy building material.

In 1868, a local committee was formed, to organise a school for the Black Flat community. A little Wesleyan timber chapel, 28ft x 10 ft on half an acre of land on Breakneck (now Waverley) Road seemed an appropriate place to open the school. John Duff was the first teacher, and it was said that he was strict and keen of the cane. So with fifty students the school opened 1 January 1869. Eliza and her siblings were included in this number. The local committee eventually found land to build a new school with residence. The building was completed in 1880. The school has seen many additions and alterations over the years. The original main classroom still remains today and is the largest. In 1969, locals celebrated the 100th anniversary, with many Wilson descendants in attendance.

Eliza married Henry William Martyr on 21st May 1878. They were married in the Wesleyan Church at Prahran, which is not far from Mulgrave. Eliza was aged 24 years and Henry was 22 years old. Henry or “Harry” to his friends, was a farmer and they settled on a property in Springfield Road, Mulgrave nice and close to her parents. My grandmother remembers Harry as a quietly spoken kind man, and recalls sitting on his lap. She says that Eliza always had the broad Irish accent and had a strong willed temperament.

Harry and Eliza went on to have twelve children, but sadly eight of those died as infants. I know that it was common for women to loose children in early pioneer days for various reasons, but how hard it must have been. When I was searching for the births of their children I was so happy to see that they had so many. Then going through the deaths and seeing one after the other had died saddened me greatly. I felt their loss at each of those death entries. On a happier note, they had three daughters and one son that survived to give them grandchildren.

Eliza's father life came to a tragic end on 21st March 1888. He was seen driving his spring cart along Dandenong Road about 5.15 p.m. The cart was loaded with manure and fruit boxes. Witnesses at his inquest said he seemed to be asleep or drunk, when he was seen to sway and fall head first onto the road. There was no obstruction on the road and the horse did not jilt him off. When they reach him, he was bleeding badly from a head wound and only lived for about 10 minutes. The police and a doctor were called; he was pronounced dead and his body taken to the Randell Hotel, alongside the Malvern Railway Station. Andrew Wilson was aged 64 years old. This must have come as an awful shock to Eliza and her family. Eliza was now aged 33 years. Her mother Eliza was to die two years later on 1st May 1890 also at the age of 64 years.
I feel very privileged that my grandmother, whom I call Nan, has entrusted me with Eliza's diaries and scrapbooks. I will never forget the first day that I saw the diaries. I had no idea that they existed and felt in complete awe that here were the words and thoughts of my g-g-grandmother. Then when Nan allowed me to take them home, so that I could read them at leisure, I could have cried with gratitude and excitement. For many years I have wanted to research my family, and with Nan's support I knew that I would be able to achieve my goal. The diaries were written in old school exercise books. Eliza made an entry every day without fail, even if it was just a few words about the weather. The diaries start at the year 1924 and the last entry in 1945 six months before her death. There are many years missing in between, sadly the whereabouts of them are not known.

To read her entries is a wonderful way to get to know her and the relationship she had with her friends and family. One thing that does stand out is the simplicity of life back then. She busied herself with caring for her garden and visiting her friends. She was very meticulous in her household duties, having a regular routine of washing, dusting, mending and scrubbing. A note was made of every light, gas and rate payment. The house was obviously never locked as she often came home to find that a neighbour had called leaving a note on the kitchen table, sometimes along with a jar of jam or some other goodies. The writing and receiving of letters was a very important aspect of her life. It was nothing for her to collect five letters in one day from different family members, and she replied within a day or two. Except for immediate family, she referred to her neighbours as Mr. or Mrs. These are just some of the many things that I have learned from her penned words.

One of her greatest loves was her music and poetry. Eliza and Harry would often get together with friends for a musical evening where someone would play the piano or accordion and the rest would sing along. What wonderful social evenings these must have been. She mentioned every time her gramophone broke down and records that she rented. The famous Australia opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba was one of her favourites. She once wrote a poem about her and sent it. Shortly after she received a reply from Dame Melba's manager with tickets to one of her performances. I can see her face clearly beaming with excitement and pride as she viewed those tickets. I have never seen the poem but I do have a copy of the letter dated 31st August 1921.

One of her scrapbooks is filled with local newspaper clippings, from the First World War. She was a royalist and collected much that pertained to the royal family. There are also many clippings of poems written not only by her, but also other locals. Mothers and fathers left behind waiting on news of their boys wrote words to express their anguish, pride and loss. There is a couple of poems written by soldiers while sitting out many hours in the trenches, sent home to their parents eager of any news. You can feel their fear and yearning for home. To say that some of their words really reach out and touch your heart is an understatement. I like to read them out loud, so as to be able to better absorb and feel the writer's raw emotion, many times clouding my eyes with tears.

She also included in her scrapbooks, obituaries and death notices. These have been very helpful in my family research, as I have been able to ascertain death dates that would otherwise have been very hard to find. Anyone who is researching a name that is very common, as Wilson is, will know exactly what I mean. When I first started researching Eliza's parents, Andrew and Eliza, I nearly followed the path of another Wilson couple with the same names, but no relation. I wonder how many times that has happened.

I travelled to Melbourne 18 months ago, with the sole purpose of family research. I hired a car and visited the area where Eliza and Harry lived. Of course it is no longer a small farming community but a thriving suburb with traffic so thick it is hard to believe there were ever any farms. How different this picture is to the image the diaries give of the area. I visited the site of the cemetery where Eliza's parents are buried. Unfortunately, their headstones were not among the one that have been fortunate enough to wear the tides of time. However, I was pleased to see it had been preserved as a “Pioneer Cemetery”, with a paved area where each paving brick bears the name of someone buried there. As I slowly walked through the cemetery I found myself familiar with many of the names on old headstones, this was again thanks to Eliza's diaries.

I have traced other ancestors to this area and found that many of the streets are named after them. I visited them all, with Wilson Road being on top of my list. Many of her friends that are mentioned in her diaries, also have streets bearing their names. What a wonderful way to commemorate the early pioneers of the area.

Harry died in 1937, part of Eliza's diary entry on the day reads, “it is all over, so poor old dad went home on 23 June 1937. Jess & I were left alone on our sorrow. Poor dads lifeless body was carried home in his casket of polished & he did look so sweet & nice.” Jess was Eliza & Harry's middle daughter. Their youngest daughter Neta, lived in Western Australia so could not be with her mother at this time. She did write Eliza a letter dated 24 June 1937, which reads in part, “We have the memory of a good father who lived for his home and family. Poor old daddy, his days work done...” Then Eliza's entry for July 2nd states, “.... I felt very lonely & depressed...” So Harry was much loved and missed.

Eliza lived until 22nd January 1946; she was then aged 91 years old. She died in a private hospital after being ill for some months. For anyone to live to such an age is a real milestone indeed. I feel very honoured to have been able to take a detailed look into her life through her own words.

A large photo of Eliza & Harry taken early 1900's, hangs in pride of place near the entry at my front door. I often stop and look at this photo, ever thankful that Eliza took the time to pen a daily entry in her diary. I like to think that she would be very happy and proud, that one of her descendants has taken the time to read her many entries and write about her life. My ultimate goal is to transcribe the diaries into book form, and include copies of photos, maps, letters and poems. This will enable all her descendants, to read about a special moment in their family history. How very grateful I am, to Eliza and her family for taking that gruelling journey, so many years ago, across many waters to a wonderful land down under.

Written by Eliza Martyr's, g-g-grand daughter,
Tracy Willet

Eliza married Henry William (Harry) Martyr, son of George Martyr and Fanny Hiscock, on 21 May 1878 in Wesleyan Church, Prahran, Victoria, Australia. (Henry William (Harry) Martyr was born on 27 May 1856 in Somerton, Victoria Australia, died on 23 Jun 1937 in Fairfield, Melbourne, Victoria Australia and was buried on 24 Jun 1937 in Cremated at Springvale Crematorium, Victoria Australia Cremated Remains Scattered.)

  Noted events in their marriage were:

• Certificate: (1770).


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