Category Archives: marion margaret sinclair

Into the electric age: Marion M (Sinclair) Skelton (1883-1970)

My grandmother, Marion Margaret Skelton (née Sinclair), was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, in 1883.  My last post on her, ended saying that she left England to come to NZ in 1905.

Marion was very formal in the way she talked about family members. In her letter (dated 9th May 1938 ) to one of her nephews, she referred to her father, James Sinclair, as “the father”:

The father came to N.Z., and when the two eldest had finished their education in England, they came to N.Z..

Marion M Sinclair is on the passenger list for the German ship Scharnhorst, which left Southhampton for Australia on 30th January 1905.

The incoming passenger list has Marion arriving in Sydney on the Scarnhorst on 17 March 1905.  The names next to Marion’s on both lists are Mrs SM Parkinson and Mrs E. Elliott.  These two women and Miss M Sinclair are also listed as travelling on a ship  that went from Sydney to Auckland about a week later.

Auckland waterfront 1905 Heritage Image Sir george Grey collection

Looking south from the masthead of the barque Piri, showing …. various buildings and wharves in Auckland, 1905. Photographer : Henry Winkelmann, 1905, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W117

Mrs S M Parkinson was a social and temperance campaigner, much like Marion’s grandfather William Anthony Brignal.

Marion’s brother, William John Sinclair, must have come to New Zealand some time soon after that.  He was born in about 1985.  In the 1901 UK census, he was living at his grandmother, Margaret Sinclair’s house, 26 Beverley Terrace, Cullercoates, Newcastle Upon Tyne. His occupation is listed as electrical engineer.  This was in an era when,  “much of Britain’s most innovative electrical engineering emerged around the Tyne.”

[Moffat, Alistair and George Rosie, Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, Mainstream Publishing: Edinburgh and London, 2005: p.276]

Barras Bridge Newcastle

Barras Bridge Newcastle Upon Tyne post 1901: Newcastle Libraries 029167

William John married Mildred Cruikshank.  His father was mentioned in the newspaper report of the wedding (Observer, 15 June 1912, p.8.)  After the wedding, the couple lived in Gisborne, where “Bill” had already made his home.  Bill continued to work as an electrical engineer, for Turnbull and Jones in Gisborne (as shown in successive NZ Electoral Rolls and in his mention in the Poverty Bay Herald, 4 July 1916, p.4.)

Marion’s 1938 letter mention her first few  years in New Zealand:

I taught under the Auckland Education Board for 10 yrs, first at Hakaru (1906), then at Brynderwyn near Maungaturoto (1908-?) when I got married.

Maungaturoto 1914 Heritage Image

Development of the route of the North Auckland Main Trunk Railway: new buildings erected at Maungaturoto. Creator: Auckland Weekly News, 25 June 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140625-48-3

Marion married Marcus Noble Skelton (aka Noble Skelton) in Auckland in 1915.  The newspaper report (in The Northern Advocate, 9 April 1915, p.7) does not mention Marion’s father as being present at the wedding. At that time, Marion’s father James Sinclair was living in Matakana, north of Auckland.

The marriage certificate, states the full names for both her parents, plus names a witness as Dr F W Fullerton of Takapuna.  He was the husband of Marion’s aunt Eveline/Evelyn (see my earlier post on them).

There are many newspaper reports of the time of the social activities that Dr and Mrs Fullerton attended.  However, unlike the articles about Marion’s father and uncle in Matakana, none of these articles mentions the connection with John Sinclair, tobacco manufacturer of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Neither do any articles about the Fullertons mention their connection with Marion, or the Matakana Sinclairs.

Noble was born and raised in Paparoa in the Kaipara region, and that is where he and Marion lived for the rest of their lives. Like many of her Sinclair family, Marion was a lover of music, and continued to teach music to people around the Paparoa area after her marriage.

Noble was first a teacher, then went into business as a solicitor with his brother, Hall Skelton of Auckland.  Noble was also a farmer on land where his home, Summerhill, Paparoa, stood.

Summerhill

Painting of Summerhill – owned by Skelton family, Paparoa.

During the depression of the late 20s and 1930s, Noble hit financial hard times.  He died unexpectedly at 59 years of age, leaving two young teenage sons, and his wife Marion (see his obituary in the New Zealand Herald, 15 August 1933, p.10).  Marion wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life.

In the 1920s and 30s, life was not only difficult financially, but in the rural Paparoa, there were few of the conveniences we take for granted today. Travel and communications were far less sophisticated.

The weather could also sometimes be quite cruel.

Paparoa flood 1924

“The settlement of Paparoa, North Auckland under water, after the recent floods.”  Photographer: D Nicholas, Auckland Weekly News, 17 April 1924, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19240417-43-The settlement of 6

In her 1938 letter, Marion says that they had “heavy rain and high floods here last week”.

A newspaper of the time judged this to be the worst flood since 1924-5 (New Zealand Herald, 4 May 1938, p.14; See also New Zealand Herald, 5 May 1938, p.16)

Marion’s son Ron (Ronald Noble Skelton) continued to live with her at Summerhill until he got married.  At around the time of his marriage, he had a house built in the centre of Paparoa, and Marion lived there for the rest of her life.

In her later years Marion’s Strohbech piano was one of her most prized possessions.  She bequeathed it to her son Ron Skelton, as indicated in her Will held at Archives NZ. Marion M Skelton (née Sinclair) died on 21 February 1970.

Leave a comment

Filed under biography, history, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, paparoa, technology, william john sinclair

Child of Victorian times: Marion Margaret Sinclair (1883-1970)

When I consider the contexts of the life of my grandmother, Marion Margaret Skelton (née Sinclair), I am amazed at the changes she must have experienced.  She was born in 1883, the eldest child of James and Fanny Jane Sinclair in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.

 Beatrice (1883) of the Tyne General Ferry Company by the Newcastle High Level and Swing Bridges

Beatrice (1883) of the Tyne General Ferry Company by the Newcastle High Level and Swing Bridges

Queen Victoria had been on the Throne since 1938.  Marion died in 1970, in the Kaipara region, about 80 miles north of Auckland, New Zealand – nearly 70 years after Queen Victoria died.

In 1879, horse drawn trams were common in Newcastle streets.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Tyneside was a significant center for the development of electricityJoseph Swan, who later joined with the Edison company, was an important player in the new applications of electricity technologies in Newcastle and internationally.

The world was changing. The year before Marion was born, a Newcastle drapers shop became the first shop in the world to be lit by electricity.

Marion’s mother died when she was 5 years old.  This death happened a few hours after Marion’s sister Fanny was born, according to a letter that Marion wrote in 1938.  I have a scan of the letter.  It was sent to me by a  descendant of another of Marion’s siblings who remained in the UK.  In the letter Marion wrote what she knew of her family history.   She named her siblings as William John, James George and Fannie. Marion wrote:

The mother died a few hours after Fannie was born, leaving four little children under 6 years old.

To my generation, it seems strange that she would refer to her mother as “The mother“.  However, this may have been at least partly due to the formalities expected in Victorian times.  I’m told that she always referred to her husband as “Mister Skelton”.  Her son, my father Trevor Noble Skelton, always referred to his mother using the Latin, “Mater” or “The Mater”.

Temperance gathering victorian Newcastle

Aaron Guy discovered a large collection of glass plate negatives depicting Victorial life in Newcastle. This photo is of a Temperance gathering.

Victorian Newcastle waiting for a launch on Tyneside

“Onlookers wait for the launch of a ship in Tyneside”

It is not entirely clear who Marion lived with throughout her childhood, but I was told that she was brought up by aunts.  I have a strong memory from the early 1960s, when my grandmother (Marion) was staying with my family. She showed me a photo of a young woman standing at the bottom of a household staircase and wearing a maid’s uniform.  My grandmother said that the young woman was a maid where she grew up, laughing at the memory.  She recalled that the young woman was “funny” and a bit of a jokester.  That’s the only photo I’ve seen from Marion’s earlier days.

During the 1891 census, I am pretty sure it is Marion and her 2 brothers who were boarding with Mr and Mrs Relph in Cullercoates: named as Marian, William, and Stewart.  This is the same area where the children’s grandfather, John Sinclair had a house at the time.  The children’s family name has been mis-transcribed as “Smeland”,  but the handwritten record shows the name to be “Sinclair”.  Also during that census, Marion’s baby sister Fannie, and their uncle, Stephen E Sinclair, 17 years old, were living in John Sinclair’s household at 26 Beverley Terrace in Cullercoates.

It is also most likely that, during the 1901 census, Marion was an apprentice music teacher, boarding in Hampshire. During the same census, Marion’s 16 year old brother, William John Sinclair, was living in Margaret Sinclair’s household at 26 Beverly Terrace in Cullercoates. Margaret was John Sinclair’s widow. William John’s occupation is listed as “electrical engineer”.  Also in the household was Marion’s sister Fanny.

Queen Victoria had died in January of that year, bringing the Victorian era to an end.   In the early 20th century, the electricity industry in Tyneside gathered momentum. In December of 1901,  electric trams began running in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Electric tram newcastle

Postcard of South Shields Tram No. 46, Fowler Street, September 1933: This tram was originally Tyneside Tramways & Tramroads No. 3, and ran on that system from 1901 until its demise in 1930.”

Four years later in 1905, Marion Margaret Sinclair’s grandmother, Margaret Sinclair died.  Early in that year, Marion left England to live in New Zealand.

Marion Margaret Sinclair’s life: To be continued.

3 Comments

Filed under biography, history, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, paparoa, temperance

A life too short: Fanny Jane Brignal 1863-1888

My great grandmother, Fanny Jane Brignal, like many women in the 19th Century had a short life, dying in child birth.  Nevertheless, she played a very important role in giving life to 4 children, 2 of whom migrated to New Zealand.

The 1861 Census shows that Fanny Jane’s parents were living with her younger brother, George Dodds Brignal (2 yrs) in the All Saints Parish at Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Fanny’s father William Anthony Brignal was born in Durham, and his occupation at this Census is “Wholesale Druggist”.

Fanny Jane was born in March 1863, in Newcastle Upon Tyne. [ England and Wales free BMD Index 1837-1915].

Fanny was 8 years old at the time of the 1871 UK Census.  She was living in the St Andrews Parish, Jesmond Ecclesiastical Parish in Newcastle Upon Tyne, with her family:

Father: William A Brignal 34 yrs  – Newspaper Publisher & registered (?) chemist.

Mother: Mary A. Brignal 33 yrs

Brother: William J Brignal 5 yrs

Servant: Kate Richardson 18 yrs

In the 1881 Census, William Brignal (45 yrs) and his wife Mary Anne Brignal (44 rs) are in the household of her parents (possibly visiting from Liverpool), George and Francis Dodds (both 70 yrs) and the Dodds’ grandson, George R Allison (16 yrs) at 51 Beverley Terrace, Tynemouth.  Also in the household are servants, Annie (21) and Mary (18) Richardson. George Allison is listed as a Commercial Clerk.

Curiously, at the time of the same census (1881), Fanny Jane’s husband-to-be James Sinclair (20 yrs) is living in his father’s household at 26 Beverley Terrace. Meanwhile, Fanny Jane Brignall (two Ls), 18 years old, appears on the 1881 Census record as living at 16 Low Hill in West Derby (Liverpool). Also in the household were Fanny’s brothers,

George Brignall (22 yrs) – Estate Agent

William Brignall (15 yrs) – Draper

Fanny’s cousin,

Isabella Brignall (20 yrs)

and a servant, Rhoda Adams (20 yrs)

This was likely to be the home of the parents, William and Mary Brignal.

Church Street, Liverpool, c.1880

Church Street, Liverpool, c.1880: from Streets of Liverpool.

In 1882, Fanny Jane returned to Tynemouth to marry James Sinclair. The marriage notice in the Newcastle Daily Journal, Wednesday June 7, 1862 says:

North Shields, Primitive Methodist Chapel on the 6th inst., by the Rev Vian Williams, asisted by Rev John Stoddard, James, eldest son of John Sinclair of Cullercoates, to Fanny Jane, only daughter of W. A. Brignal of Liverpool.

The marriage certificate records that the chapel was in Saville Street, that the witnesses were John Sinclair and Isabella Ella Marshall, and that James Sinclair’s Rank or Profession was “Tobacco Manufacturer”.  It also records that Fanny’s father, William Anthony Brignal’s occupation was “Journalist”.  It gives James age as 22 yrs and Fanny Jane’s as 19 yrs and states that both Fanny Jane and James were residing in Beverley Terrace.

The Newcastle Daily Journal of Thursday 12 October 1882, reports celebrations for the recent marriages of James Sinclair (bn 1861 son of John Sinclair) and his cousin, James (bn 1959 son of Robert Sinclair), who married Sarah Jane (née Brewis) in September of that year.

MARRIAGE CELEBRATIONS:  – On Tuesday evening, about 40 of the male employees of the firm of Messrs John and Robert Sinclair, tobacco manufacturers, of this city, were entertained to an excellent dinner at the Crown Hotel, Clayton Street, in celebration of the recent marriages of the Messres James Sinclair. After dinner, various toasts were given and duly honored, the toast of the evening, “Long life, happiness, and success to the newly married sons of the respected heads of the firm,” being admirably put by the Chairman (Mr Joseph Davidson), and enthusiastically received by the company. – Last night, about 200 employees of both sexes, including several invited friends, were further entertained to tea in the Temperance Hall, Nelson Street.  After tea, an adjourment was made to Northumberland Hall, Grainger Street, for the convenience of the unexpectedly large company, when Mr James Taite, jun., was called to the chair. A lengthy and exceedingly entertaining programme of songs, glees, violin solos, &c., was gone through, to the great delight and satisfaction of all present.  Mr John Sinclair, jun., ably presided at the piano on both occasions.

Grainger Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne poscard, posted 1902.

Grainger Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne poscard, posted 1902. [see more about this image, and the history of Newcastle at the Island Guide website.]

Sadly the newly wed Fanny Jane Sinclair only lived for just under 6 more years. Fanny Jane’s death notice:

NEWCASTLE, 17. Stratford Grove, Heaton, on the 20th inst., aged 25, Fanny Jane, the dearly beloved wife of James Sinclair, and daughter of W.A. and M.A. Brignal of Liverpool, and grand-daughter of the late Geo.Dodds of Cullercoats.

Above that on the same page in the BIRTHS section,

NEWCASTLE, 17. Stratford Grove, Heaton, on the 20th inst., the wife of James Sinclair of a daughter.

[See the Heaton History Group website for information about, and images of Heaton’s history]

Fanny Sinclair (22 yrs), as this daughter was named, was in the household of her aunts, Ann Lindsay (46 yrs), Jane Miller Sinclair (42 yrs), and Margaret Thompson (née Sinclair, 41 yrs) at 26 Beverley Terrace during the 1911 census.  Margaret’s husband Frederick William Thompson (accountant, 43 yrs) was also in the household, along with their children and some servants.

Fanny Jane’s older children were Marion Margaret (bn 1 Aug. 1883), William John (bn 1884) and Stephen/Stewart/James (bn c.1886)

2 Comments

Filed under biography, fanny sinclair, james sinclair, john sinclair, liverpool, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, primitive methodist, tobacco, william anthony brignal, william john sinclair

Edge of Tyne: border crossings in the industrial age

Now the whole river began to boom. Coal-based, this prosperity took in iron and later steel, shipbuilding, chemicals, light and heavy engineering.  This was the era of invention, and the Tyne was at the forefront.  From her banks came the first railways, the first electric lamp, the first big guns, the first Dreadnoughts, the first life boats, the most daring bridges … Now on both banks Tyneside filled with windmills and pits and factories.  The gaps between, and the long sweeps up the hillsides behind, were crammed with terrace rows of brick to house the thousands of workers who were streaming in from all over the kingdom to get richer than all but a few of them ever really did.  The salmon twitched in liquid poison and gave up the ghost.

[David Bean’s Tyneside: A Biography (1971), cited in Tyneside: A History of Newcastle and Gateshead from Earliest Times, by Alistair Moffat & George Rosie, Mainstream Publishing: Edinburgh and London, 2005: pp. 281-2.]

This came a couple of pages after Moffat and Rosie began their chapter, entitled “Workshop of the World”, on Tyneside in the first decade of the 20th Century  (Moffat & Rosie: p. 279), with this:

It’s a venerable saying, but it’s worth repeating: in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not Queen Victoria and her son King Edward who ruled over Britain, it was Old King Coal.

The period between 1850 and 1905 was when part of my family history shifted from Scotland to Tyneside, prior to my great grandfather (James Sinclair) and my grandmother (Marion Margaret Skelton, née Sinclair) immigrating to New Zealand. Many Scots have a long history that shifts between the Scotland and the border territory north of Tyneside.  For many centuries, there was not a clear demarcation between the two countries.  Hadrians wall was built from along the banks of the River Tyne across to Bowness-on-Solway (east of Carlisle, on England’s north east coast).

Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.

“Between Benwell and Newcastle City Centre Hadrian’s Wall more or less ran along the course of what is now the Westgate Road.” (Going Glenn blog)

Hadrian’s Wall was a defence built to help keep the borderland and Scottish clans out of England.  Some of my other ancestors originally lived and fought in that border territory (the Skeltons and the Nobles) at least as far back as the 16th Century. The Scottish clans ceased their attempts to annex Northumberland and Tyneside after their defeat by James IV at Flodden Field in 1513 (Moffat & Rosie, p. 153).  Following this, bandits (or “Border Reivers”) raided and terrorised others in the border territory and Scotland.  The Nobles were bandits that terrorised many families, including the Skeltons.

Later, in the 19th Century, with Scotland part of Britain, many Scots travelled to the Tyneside area to participate in the acceleration of industrialisation in the region.  My great great grandfather, John Sinclair (1826-1895), and his brother Robert Sinclair (1836-?) migrated to Tyneside in the mid 19th Century, where they began getting experience in the tobacco industry.  They opened a small tobacco shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1856.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Robert Sincalr Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

Robert Sinclair Tobacco Factory (c.1919), top floor of the Westgate Road building.

The coal industry developed early in Tyneside because coal was relatively close to the earth’s surface and easily mined.  As industrialisation gathered steam, the ship building industry developed around the Tyne. This provided a context out of which associated industries and commercial activities developed. With the relatively quick rise in population, activities arose that supported urban living and city life: arts and education for instance.

Migration from places like Ireland and Scotland and other places contributed to religious diversity. The Anglican Church was dominant, with a significant amount of political/social “dissenters” in Presbyterian, and non-conformist churches such as Congregationalist and Methodist churches (Moffat & Rosie: p. 268).  Working classes tended to be associated with non-conformist churches such as the Primitive Methodists (A New England? Peace and War, 1886-1918,  G.R. Searle, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004: p. 104).

Industrial development, urban rural shifts, and the rise of the popular press in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Searle p110-111), resulted in a shift from local towards more nationally focused politics.  From 1885 to the mid 90s, the (Gladstone) Liberal Party supported Home Rule for Ireland (Searle: pp. 119-169).  This was a signficiant issue which at times split Liberals.  The very active Temperance movement also was associated with the Liberal Party.

It was into this context that James Sinclair was born (1861) and married (1882) at a Primitive Methodist Church in North Shields, Tyneside.  This evangelical church was associated with the Temperance movement and working class culture.  It adopted the popular culture practices of “Chapel”, as opposed to the more classical style of the Anglican Church.  It is not surprising, then, that my grandmother, (born Marion Margaret Sinclair in 1883) was teetotal throughout her life, and advocated an abstemious lifestyle along with strict observance of Sunday as a religious day.  Nevertheless, perhaps reflecting the context of religious diversity on Tyneside where she grew up, she also supported middle and upper class culture in the form of music, literature and the arts.

The Newcastle band, Lindisfarne, achieved popular success in the 1970s, drawing on the Celtic culture that was, by then, an important part of the Newcastle heritage.

2 Comments

Filed under heritage, history, james sinclair, john sinclair, liberal party, marion margaret sinclair, newcastle upon tyne, temperance

Matakana Mystery Man: James Sinclair’s (incomplete) story

Until earlier this year, I didn’t know the name of one of my great grandfathers (my father’s mother’s father).  The more I have investigated him, the more I have become intrigued about his life and why he came to New Zealand.  I have been surprised by some of the details I’ve learned of his life and family background.

James Sinclair seems to have been an accepted part of some circles, and made positive contributions to the community in which he lived.  Nevertheless, there seems to have been a rift between him and my grandmother as well as with other members of his family.  He was possibly a “Remittance Man”, sent regular remittance cheques by his family on the condition that he leave England and never return.  However, so far, I have not found any evidence of criminal activities, moral failures or socially unacceptable practices.

Newcastle Upon Tyne: 1860-1891

Little is known about him amongst living members of my extended family.  James’ daughter (my grandmother) seemed to have said very little about her parents, other than that her birth name was Marion Margaret Sinclair, that she was from a fairly well-off family in Newcastle Upon Tyne in England, and that she had been brought up by relatives in a household with servants.  I have recently discovered that she was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1883.  Her parents (according to Marion’s marriage certificate) were James Sinclair and Fanny Jane Brignal.

Victorian Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1880s: The Guardian, 29 March 2012

Victorian Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1880s: The Guardian, 29 March 2012

I have also learned that James Sinclair was born in 1860 or 1861 in Newcastle Upon Tyne: father John Sinclair (successful Tobacco Manufacturer) and mother Margaret Wrightson.  He was the oldest child of a large family.  At the 1881 UK Census, James was living in his father, John Sinclair’s household at 26 Beverley Terrace, along with several of his siblings.  At the same time Fanny Jane’s parents, were living at 51 Beverley Terrace, Cullercoats, Tynemouth. On his 1882 marriage certificate, James’ occupation is given as “Tobacco Manufacturer”, his age as 22 years, and the residences for both James and Fanny is “Beverley Terrace”.

In June 1882 James married Fanny Jane Brignal at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in North Shields, Tynemouth.  This church was possibly connected with Fanny Jane’s father, as it stressed the Teetotal lifestyle, and was associated with the working classes. The rest of the Sinclairs seem to have been more connected to Presbyterian Churches, while Marion Margaret was married in an Anglican church.

The Primitive Methodist association suggests that James’ in-laws may not have been acceptable to the Sinclairs on the grounds of religion and/or politics. Fanny Jane’s father (William Anthony Brignal) was a campaigner for Temperance and railway working men’s causes, which were linked to the Liberal Party.

Fanny Jane and James seem to have been a happy and devoted couple, appearing at social occasions in the Tyneside area as mentioned in newspapers of the 1880s.  They had four children: Marion (the oldest), William John, Stephen (possibly also referred to as James or Stewart?*), and Fanny.  Their mother Fanny Jane died on the same day that her daughter Fanny was born: 20 December 1888.  When she died Fanny Jane was just about 25, and James would have been about 28 years old. This could possibly have been a sad turning point in James’ life.

Sandhill, Newcastle Upon Tyne, c. 1880s: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Photostream (flickr)

Sandhill, Newcastle Upon Tyne, c. 1880s: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Photostream (flickr)

So far I have not found James in the (5 April) 1891 UK Census, while Edward and James’ 2 year old daughter were living at John Sinclair’s house at 3 Hawthorn Terrace, Westgate, Newcastle Upon Tyne.  James’ 3 other children seem to have been boarding in Hudleston Street, Cullercoats with Mr and Mrs Ralph/Relph. This was in the same area as John Sinclair’s Beverley Terrace house. The younger son is named as “Stewart”, while in John Sinclair’s Will he is named “Stephen”.

Beverley Terrace is a coastal street with houses that look out on the North Sea.

The mystery years: 1889 – 1900s

However, James Sinclair (aged 31 years) does appear on a passenger list for the ship La Gascogne that arrived in New York on 1 June 1891.

There is a slight possibility it could have been my great grandfather’s cousin, also called James Sinclair (born 1858/9), who was the son of another successful Tobacco Manufacturer, Robert Sinclair. However on La Gascogne’s passsenger list, immediately under James Sinclair, is  S.E. Sinclair, 17 years old. Both he and James are listed as “Tobacconists”.  This must surely be James’s youngest sibling, Stephen Edward Sinclair (born 1874).

La Gascogne passenger list: arrival New York 1 June 1891. From the Ancestry Library: James & Edward #50 & 51

La Gascogne passenger list: arrival New York 1 June 1891. From the Ancestry Library: James & Edward #50 & 51

About 15 years later James was living with his brother Edward, and Edward’s wife Jessie, at a boarding house in Matakana, north of Auckland in New Zealand.

The curious thing about this passenger record is that the departure port for La Gasgogne was Le Havre, the port nearest Paris in France.  Was James therefore living in the south of England, or France, or elsewhere in Europe earlier in 1891?  Or were James and Edward trying to sneak out of England relatively unnoticed?  Only one other passenger is listed as being English. The rest are Americans or Europeans: mainly Swiss, German and French.

In 1893 James and Edward’s father John Sinclair drew up his Will, giving them both an “annuity” (annual allowance) to be paid quarterly for the rest of their lives.  The second oldest son John was given most responsibilities for the tobacco business, with his brother Robert in support, and to be overseen by the nominated trustees.  This is curious because James, as eldest son, would have normally been the first in line to inherit John’s business.  John Sinclair died in 1895, and the Will was officially probated in 1896.

NZ: Matakana, Auckland. 1900s – 1927

Edward arrived in Auckland in 1894 (‘Obituary’, Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, 28 June 1911, p.4), he married Jessie Campbell of Matakana in 1897, and they were both resident in Matakana by about 1903. In his Obituary Edward is identified as the son of a cigar manufacturer and merchant in Newcastle on Tyne, and in the notice for his marriage he is identified as the son of the “late John Sinclair” of Newcastle on Tyne (NZ Herald 9 Dec, 1897).

AT THE HEADQUARTERS OF NAVIGATION: THE S.S. KOTITI LYING AT MATAKANA WHARF, ON THE MATAKANA RIVER, AUCKLAND. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19091223-3-2 [Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 23 DECEMBER 1909 p003 ]

Matakana Wharf, 1909.

At the Headquarters of Navigation: The S.S. Kotiti Lying at Matakana Wharf, on the Matakana River, Auckland.

–  Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries,                            AWNS-19091223-3-2 [Auckland Weekly News Supplement, 23 December 1909 p. 3 ]

According to his death certificate, James took up permanent residence in New Zealand in 1900. It is most likely my great grandfather who is listed as “James Sinclair: Gentleman” in the Matakana electoral role of 1905-6.

Both James and Edward (probably known as Jim and Ted) seem to have both made a positive contribution to life in their community, with Edward taking a particularly strong role.   They lived at the “Tyneholme” Boarding House at Matakana, possibly owned and managed by Edward’s wife Jessie. James had roles on various committees: the Matakana Cricket Club, Library Committee, president of the Rodney Cricket Assoc., auditor for the Matakana show. He probably also helped Jessie and/or Edward out working in the Matakana Post Office.

The Matakana 28082013

The Matakana Boarding House where Jessie, Edward and James lived is now a pub, 28 Aug 2013

James and Edward seem to have been strongly involved in the local social life, as well as singing and playing the piano.  James’ daughter Marion, who continued to live in Paparoa (not so far from Matakana these days, though a bit of a trek in the early 20th century), was a music teacher there. So it’s curious that there seems to have been little or no contact between them. James does seem to have been at the centre of a couple of community disputes that spilled over into the letters sections of the local newspaper.

Jame’s second child, William John also immgrated to New Zealand.   There is a report in The Observer (15 June 1912, p.8) of the marriage of W.J. Sinclair of Gisborne to Mildred Cruickshank in 1911, identifying W.J. as the son of James Sinclair of Matakana, formely of Newcastle On Tyne.

Edward seemed to be developing a promising career via various activities, including being the secretary of the Matakana Dairy Board.

Matakana Butter Factory 1902

Group of directos and officials of the Matakana butter factory 1902

 Image from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19021218-12-1. [Auckland Weekly News 18 December 1902]

Sadly Edward died of pneumonia in 1911 at the age of 37 years.  His wife Jessie and brother James continued living at “Tyneholme” in Matakana for a few years.  Newspapers reported on their role as witnesses in a burglary trial, the accused having stayed at Jessie’s Boarding House immediately after the burglary.  (For instance NZ Herald, 23 November 1912, p.5). Eventually Jessie and her 4 daughters moved away to Auckland’s North Shore.

The notice in the NZ Herald (18 October, 1927, p.1) of James Sinclair’s death in Auckland on 17 October 1927,  identifies James as being “formerly of Matakana” and the eldest son of John Sinclair of Newcastle on Tyne. His death certificate puts his age as 67 years.  Prior to his death at Auckland Hospital, he had been living in the Knox Home, Tamaki West, a charity home for poor people suffering from incurable diseases”. He had been suffering from “senility” in the last year of his life, and “senile gangrene” for the final 2 months, but eventually died of “cardiac failure”.

James’s New Zealand grandchildren and great grandchildren have subsequently led successful lives.

It remains a mystery as to how, having been born and raised in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the eldest son of a successful and well-heeled Tobacco Manufacturer ended up dying, seemingly alone and destitute, in New Zealand.  James was buried at Purewa Cemetery in Meadowbank, Auckland, in an unmarked grave.

James Sinclair's unmarked grave, Purewa Cemetery, Photo, 2013

James Sinclair’s unmarked grave, Purewa Cemetery, Photo, 2013

* Edit 24.10.2014: I have since learned that James Sinclair’s younger son was called James George Sinclair, and was known as “Steenie”.

6 Comments

Filed under biography, history, james sinclair, jessie (campbell) sinclair, john sinclair, marion margaret sinclair, matakana, newcastle upon tyne, stephen edward sinclair, william john sinclair