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Sophia Evans

The story of Sophia Evans: 1855-1923

Sophia was the daughter of James Evans and Sarah Hardwick. 

James was from South Wales and Sarah from Herefordshire in England. They married in the Church of England at Whitchurch, Hereford, on July 25, 1849.

After arriving in Port Phillip, they moved around Melbourne and the goldfields before settling at Woodend where Sophia was born on April 10, 1855. James worked as a carrier between Melbourne and the diggings.

She had two older brothers, Joseph (born 1850) and Oliver (born 1852) but there is no record of their births or deaths being registered in Victoria. It's likely that Joseph and Oliver died as infants or young children. They are shown as being deceased on their mother's death certificate.

Sophia had at least two younger brothers, James (born at Woodend in 1859) and William (Woodend 1861). James was also deceased before 1883. William was still alive when James Evans died in 1907, but nothing more is known about his life or death.

Sophia probably had just a basic education, perhaps at the Church of England primary school in Woodend. Her father moved to Barfold near Kyneton in the 1860s. He was a grazier, hotel keeper and contractor at Emberton working for the Shire of Metcalfe. Sophia possibly worked in the hotel near the Campaspe River crossing.

Edward Gorey may have also worked for James Evans, or possibly was engaged on building the railway between Kyneton and Redesdale, which took place in the early 1870s. 

Perhaps he met Sophia while visiting the hotel. The daughter of a local publican would have been quite a "catch" for a younger son and laboring man.

Sophia married Edward Gorey in St Paul's Church of England, Kyneton, on February 11, 1874 aged 18. Edward was 24. Mixed religious marriages were officially allowed at the time (the Catholic Church did not restrict them in Australia until 1908) but there was probably some social and family stigma attached.

Edward and Sophia retained their respective faiths throughout life, although Edward appears to have been the dominant influence on his children.

His sons were raised to believe they were Catholic. 

Charles, William and Ned all volunteered their denomination as Catholic on First World War enlistment forms. Edward was buried in the Catholic section of Shepparton cemetery beside his wife, but Sophia's burial service was performed by a Church of England minister.

Soon after marriage Edward and Sophia moved north to the Rochester district, which was being opened up at the time to closer settlement. James Evans took up a selection in the area about 1876 before buying a property nearby at Timmering. Sophia probably retained close contact with her parents during this time.

Sophia gave birth to at least nine children between 1876 and 1894. The births were at Corop except Charles (Pannoomilloo), James and two infants, probably stillborn (Whroo).

A doctor was present for Edward's birth (1888), which was unusual for the time and suggests that Sophia may have had difficulty with the pregnancy. It may also explain why the couple only had one more living child, with James being born six years later. A doctor was not present for the birth of any other Gorey children, nor any of the other Corop births registered about the same time.

Whroo cemetery records show two children of Edward Gorey as being buried there in 1890 and 1892. Infant mortality in the district was high, but these children, whose births were not registered, were probably stillborn.

Tragedy struck early in Sophia's marriage when her first child, Margaret Elizabeth, died of burns suffered after falling into a pot of boiling tea. This was on January 7, 1879. Margaret died while her parents were driving her to a doctor at Echuca, some 18 miles from where they lived at Torrumbarry. 

Sophia told the Coroner: "We had not driven fast and had come on a good road. On discovering that the child was dead we decided to go on to Rochester, a greater distance, where my mother resides. On reaching Rochester about midday (January 8) information was given to the police."

No blame was attached to anyone and the Coroner ruled it was an accidental death. The mention of Sophia's mother living at Rochester provides a hint that Edward and Sophia may have followed James and Sarah Evans north when James decided to leave Barfold and take up a selection.

The inquest statement also gives a clue regarding Sophia's early lifestyle. She may have worked as a cook or domestic servant on the property which employed Edward as a boundary rider. She was making tea at lunch time for a group of men, one of whom fetched a 10ft piece of timber for them to sit on.

Public references to Sophia after this time are few and generally confined to official records such as birth certificates and electoral rolls. Although Edward's name often appears in the Shepparton press during the First World War, no mention of Sophia's name could be found. 

Women were generally referred to only at social functions and regarding benevolent organisations like Red Cross. If Sophia attended such events she was not prominent. Perhaps by this time her health had deteriorated.

Sophia lived with her family at Angustown from 1889 to 1903 when she moved with Edward into a cottage at Whroo. Housing at Angustown would have been relatively primitive in the four-room weatherboard home described in Lands Department records. The property also had a timber dairy and stable.
Angustown school records from the period give some indication as to conditions — generally freezing cold in winter and oppressively hot in summer.

When James Evans died on August 27, 1907 at Echuca he left his daughter £221 (worth about $25,000 in 1998 according to the Reserve Bank). In 1910, Edward and Sophia left Whroo to start an orchard at Grahamvale near Shepparton.

Based on the memories of their grandson Ross Tennant (now deceased), and the knowledge of a current resident Gilbert Harris, the Grahamvale house was much more comfortable. 

Unfortunately, the farm was not a financial success. Edward probably lacked labor to develop the property when four of his sons enlisted to serve in the First World War.

Edward sold the farm in 1919, after which the couple lived at Shepparton in what was little more than a shack. Their son William had hoped to finish building his house at Lemnos before Sophia died so she could have some comfort in her old age.

The only personal memory of Sophia in 1999 was from her granddaughter Mena Bailey, who was aged eight when her grandmother died. "She looked after me when mum had Mabel (1917) and we were living at Cobram," Mena said.

"She was a dear little wizened up thing with a bonnet and button-up boots. I used to lift up her frock and count how many buttons she had to do up."

Mena's impression was that her grandmother was a "very gentle and very frightened" person.

"She didn't have any spirit and was very timid," Mena said. "She didn't seem to feel secure, even in our house with a policeman there."

Sophia died on February 7, 1923. Next day, the Shepparton News published a brief obituary: "Yesterday evening at the Una private hospital, the death took place of Mrs Sophia Gorey, wife of Mr Edward Gorey, of Nixon Street. The deceased was 68 years of age and was an old resident of the district. She leaves a grown-up family. The funeral is to take place tomorrow afternoon in Shepparton cemetery, according to the rites of the Church of England. The mortuary arrangements are in the hands of Mr TJ Kittle."

Sophia was buried in the Catholic section of Shepparton cemetery at Edward's instruction. According to granddaughter Evelyn Smith, who received this information from her father Bill, the Catholic priest would not perform the burial service because Sophia wasn't Catholic. The Church of England minister had to seek permission to conduct a service in the cemetery's Catholic section.

Sophia did not leave a will and there was a contest among creditors for her few possessions. At the time of death she had £19-3-5 in a State Savings Bank account (Shepparton branch, no 10053), a gold wedding ring valued at one pound and war bonds to the value of £94-6-6. The war gratuity bond was in respect of her son James Daniel and was due to mature in 1924. This meant her total estate was valued at just under £115.

The probate court appointed Edward as administrator of the estate. In any event, the debts incurred with merchant William Macdermott and orchardist Henry Nodrum were probably his.

Owner/SourceMichael Gorey
Date1999
Linked toEvans, Sophia

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