Thursday, 13 August 2015

Down a Sidetrack: Frederick John Cockrem

Well, I said that finding Frederick Cockrem Jr's service records had given me an urge to write about him, and the urge is still with me, so here goes.

Frederick Jr had a very short life and no descendants, and I wonder how many of his relatives alive today even know he ever existed.  I want to bring him to their attention, not because he did anything remarkable, but because he's one of a huge number of young men who heard the call to fight 'for King and country' in the First World War, and lost their lives in that futile conflict.

Frederick was born in March 1900, to Frederick Cockrem and Rhoda Rhodes in Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia.  Whether his parents were ever married or not, I haven't been able to discover, but either way, his mother was out of the picture, probably deceased*, sometime before 1905, when his father married Louisa Lee. So Frederick was raised by a step-mother, along with a bunch of other children, from her first marriage, his father's first marriage, and their marriage together.

He lived most of his short life in Cairns, attended the Hambledon State School, and later worked as a carpenter.  From about the age of 13, he was a cadet in the Cairns 'Citizen Forces' (later to be known as the Army Reserve), so when the war began, he was probably very keen to go and 'do his bit'.  But of course he was far too young, only 14 at the start of the war.  Over the next three years, he may have thought the war would be over before he got his chance, so on the 5th of May 1917, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and lied about his age.  At that time he would have been just over 17, but he stated his age as 18 years, 5 months.  Of course it's possible that he didn't know his real birthdate.

Frederick John Cockrem's Attestation Paper
When he enlisted, he was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, 127 pounds, with a fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair.  His medical examiners found him medically and dentally fit, and five months later he was on a troop ship, HMAT Euripides, heading from Sydney to England.  During the voyage, which took nearly two months, he spent 5 days in the ship's hospital with tonsilittis.

Troops line up for medical inspection
aboard the Euripides

The ship arrived at Devonport in England on the 26th of December 1917, and along with the rest of the 13th Training Battallion, Fred marched to the bleak and muddy garrison camp at Codford on Salisbury Plain, over 120 miles away.  Just a few days later, he was hospitalised again, this time with mumps.  The day after being discharged from hospital, he was back again, with measles.  Two months later he was discharged to a Training Depot, and about 10 days later, he was in hospital again, with bronchitis.

Codford Camp

On the 16th of April 1918, he was sent to France to join his unit at Calais.  Then on the 21st, as a member of the 10th Reinforcements, 52nd Infantry Battalion, he was sent 'to the field', and would finally get into the fighting.  Three days later, he was dead - one of the many Australian casualties at Villers-Bretonneux.

Nearly a year later, in March 1919, Fred's half-brother George wrote to the Administrative Headquarters of the AIF, asking why Fred's belongings had not been sent home to his father.  He received a prompt reply, stating that Fred's personal effects had been bound for Australia on the SS Barunga in June 1918, which was lost at sea, with all its cargo, as a result of enemy action.  Later information was received that Fred's effects consisted only of cards and photos.

Victory Medal
British War Medal

Although Fred's army career was very short and full of illness, and his active service in the field lasted only a few days, he was honoured, as were all Australian casualties of WW1, with a Memorial Scroll and Plaque, a Victory Medal and a British War Medal, all of which were sent to his father in the 1920s.  His name is engraved, along with 10,981 others, on the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France.  And the sad memory of his life lives on with me, and I hope, with others in our family.

The Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, and close up showing Frederick's name.

* The only evidence I have about Fred's mother is her name on the index of his birth record, and a note on his enlistment application saying 'mother died' with no suggestion of when that happened.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Where were the rellies? Part 3 - the Australian contingent

Finally getting back to George's siblings after major distractions.

I've grouped Alfred, Herman and Frederick Cockram together because they all emigrated to Australia in 1882, seven years after George had gone to Canada.  They sailed together from Plymouth on the Roma and arrived at Cooktown, far north Queensland, in June 1882, aged 25, 20 and 17 respectively.  All three of them settled in the same general area of northern Queensland, from Cairns to Townsville and Charters Towers, and all three changed the spelling of their name, to Cockrem.  Then again, they might never have been sure of the spelling - it was recorded as both Cockram and Cockrem, plus other variations, earlier in the family's history.  But for these three, the change seems to have begun on the ship - they were recorded as Cochren on the passenger list.  As far as I know though, that particular version of the name never showed up again.

The most interesting thing about this excerpt from the passenger list is that it shows that the 'Cochren' brothers travelled for free.  I had previously found information that they had 'assisted passage', but this is the first indication that it was free.  How did they qualify for that much 'assistance'?  Here's what I discovered about that:

Free passages were granted by the [Queensland] Government to particular categories of immigrants, and their families, which were from time to time particularly required in Queensland. These categories altered over the years as conditions in Queensland changed but included at various time female domestic servants and married couples without children. Applicants were required to pay the sum of £1 and a similar amount for each member of the family counted as a statute adult. To be eligible, they had to be unable to pay their own passage, they could not have resided previously in any Australian colony, and they must intend to reside permanently in Queensland.  
Queensland State Archives Page 4 of 4 Dec 2014

I wonder if George had that much help when he went to Canada... but that's another story.

The trouble with Queensland is there are no existing census or 'muster' records for the period I'm interested in.  Australia didn't start a national census until 1911, and while the collated data from this and later censuses are available, no names are included.  Fortunately, Queensland seemed to produce a new electoral roll nearly every year, so at least I can glean some information from those.

Alfred Cockrem (1857-1940):

Although the eldest of this threesome, Alfred might have been the least adventurous.  Like his older brother George, he seems to be missing from the 1871 census, when he was 13 or 14.  At that age, he should have been still at home, or more likely working on a nearby farm.  But perhaps he was off somehwere with his 'missing' siblings, George and Mary Ann.  At any rate, in 1881, at the age of 23, Alfred was still single, back at home with his parents, and working as a general labourer.  The only other sibling at home at that time was Clara, age 17.

But the following year, Alfred and his brothers went to Australia.  What enticed them to go, I don't know, but I'd happily guess that Australia looked like a very attractive, warm, and wild place to young English men looking for a better life.

In 1885, when he was about 28 years old, Alfred married Maria Gibbs - but only three months later, Maria died, at only 22 years old.  By 1903, Alfred had settled about 10 kms south of Cairns in  northern Queensland.  According to the Australian Electoral Roll for that year, he was farming a property called Devon Farm, at Hambledon.  Having found him in this area, where he stayed for the rest of his life, I thought he was probably growing sugar cane, and this was backed up when I found his obituary, which states that he supplied cane to WH Swallow, the owner of Hambledon Plantation, 'in the very early days', which must have been before 1897 when the plantation was sold.

Later I found the 1919 Queensland Directory, which lists Alfred as a farmer, as opposed to a fruit grower or sugar planter. And then I found the 1904 Brand Register for Queensland, which includes one for him.  Does having a registered brand mean that he was dealing in cattle, or just that he owned some stock and was protecting them from rustling.  I don't know.

In 1908 Alfred married again, this time to Rhoda Elizabeth Willis (nee Coles), from England.  She was around 52 years old at the time, and Alfred was 51.  Later that year, and up until 1925, both of them appeared on the Electoral Roll, still farming at Hambledon.  Rhoda died in 1927, of strychnine poisoning. This sounds like suicide, but I've found no further information on that.  Alfred, who continued farming into old age, died in 1940, aged 82.

Rhoda Cockrem's death. 
Cairns Post, 16 Feb 1927, p4.
Alfred Cockrem's obituary.
Cairns Post, 9 Oct 1940, p4.

I mentioned at the beginning of this little bio that Alfred might have been the least adventurous of the three brothers.  I say that because he was at his parents' home when he was 23, and once settled in Queensland, he didn't move for the rest of his life.  But of course, he did have enough wanderlust to leave England in the first place  But I suspect it was brothers who convinced him to go.

Herman Cockrem (1862-1902):

Herman had a much shorter life than his older brother.  He was married in 1885, the same year as Alfred, to Louisa Lee.  He was 23 years old, and Louisa was 20.  She was also a British migrant, having been born in Surrey, and emigrated with her parents at the age of 18.

Unfortunately, between his marriage in Cooktown, Queensland and his death only 17 years later, little information has come into my grasp.  All I've discovered is that he and Louisa had six children, and their places of birth give me only a rough idea of where the family lived.  The first four children were born somewhere in Queensland, between 1886 and 1892, and two more children were born in Murwillumbah, NSW in 1894 and 1896.

Sometime before 1898, Herman apparently moved the family back to Queensland, as his youngest daughter Eliza died there that year, at only two years old.  His eldest daughter Clara also died young, at four years old, but the four children in between - Ada, George, William and Daisy - all lived well into adulthood.

In 1900, Herman bought a town lot of about 1/4 acre - described in the deed as 1 rood, 8.6 perches - in Cannan Street, South Townsville.  He's listed there on the 1901 Electoral Roll, and his occupation is given as 'striker'.  This is the only document I've found that lists his occupation, and unfortunately I'm not sure what a 'striker' was - he could have been a blacksmith's assistant, or someone who worked on a gang laying railway track.

Herman died in October 1902, when he was only 40 years old. The Queensland Government Gazette of February 1903 states that Herman died intestate and describes him as 'Herman Cockrem (otherwise known as Herman Cockram) late of South Townsville'. This is the only Australian document I've found that uses the Cockram spelling.

Queensland Government Gazette. 11 volumes. Brisbane: Government Printer, 1903.

Herman's wife Louisa lived on for another 32 years, and we'll meet her again very soon...

Frederick Cockrem (1865-1940):

Frederick was only 17 when he and his brothers arrived in Australia, and his life was the most complex.  In 1886, when he was 21, he married Mary Walsh, another British migrant about five years older than himself.  Over the next four years they had three children; William, George who died in infancy, and Cecelia.  But less than a year after Cecelia was born, Mary died.  Frederick, at only 25 years old, was a widower with two very young children, and I don't know how he looked after them.

State Library of Qld: Appointments of Queensland Railway Employees June 1890-June 1901

Just a few months before Mary died, Frederick had gone to work for the Bowen Railway as a labourer in the Maintenance department, at 8 shillings a day.  In 1892, his pay was still the same, but his job title had changed to 'lengthsman', which meant he was responsible for the maintenance of a particular length of railway line.  I'm not sure where he was living at that time, but I suspect it was Townsville.  The first definite location I've found for him was in August 1898 when he lived in Charters Towers.  In 1901 he was still there, and on the Electoral Roll his occupation is 'labourer'.

Somewhere in that period of widowerhood, he met a woman called Rhoda Rhodes, and in early 1900, Rhoda had a child called Frederick John Cockrem.  I've found no evidence that Frederick Sr and Rhoda ever married.  But Frederick Jr enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in World War 1, and his enlistment papers tell me that his mother had died sometime before 1917.  I got seriously sidetracked by those enlistment papers and service records - over 30 pages of them - and developed a strong urge to write a bio of Frederick Jr.... but let's get back to his father.

In 1903, still living in Charters Towers, trouble struck Frederick.  I don't know what the cause was, but he declared insolvency that year.  I've found the initial record, but not the follow up that will hopefully give me a lot more information about that.

Perhaps the insolvency had to do with losing his job and having to support seven children, for besides his own three, I think he started supporting his brother Herman's four surviving children around that time.  I'm guessing about that, due to the fact that Frederick and Louisa Lee, Herman's widow, had a child, Thomas Victor, together in November 1903.  About two years after that, they got married.  And in 1907 they had another child, Alfred Henry.  At that time they were living in Cairns.

So to summarize Frederick's household as of 1907, it probably consisted of himself and his wife Louisa plus nine children, ranging in age from infancy to 19 years.

Over the next several years, Frederick and Louisa lived at a few different addresses, most of which were in the same area of Cairns.  But by 1919, they may have split up.  That year, they show up at different addresses in Cairns, and by 1928, Frederick had moved to Babinda, about 60kms south of Cairns, where he was still working for the railway, as a 'fettler' - maintaining railway track.  Louisa seems to have been living with their son Thomas in Cairns.  By 1931, Frederick was in Atherton, a little way west, and Louisa had disappeared from the Electoral Roll.  She died in 1934, and judging by a news item about her funeral, she was well-loved.

By 1936, Frederick was back in Cairns, now retired, at the age of 71, and living at the 'Pensioner's Reserve' in Martyn St.  I believe he stayed there until his death in 1940.  Frederick's obituary is very brief - it states that he lived in and around Cairns for 35 years and had been employed by the railway and by the Cairns City Council.  He was survived by four sons and a daughter.


Well that went on for longer than I expected it to!  I've become quite attached to all these Cockrems in the course of researching their lives.  While I doubt whether Alfred, Herman, Frederick or any of George's other siblings had anything to do with his name change, I suspect that some, if not all of them knew the reason for it.  George kept in touch with some of his siblings (unfortunately I don't know which ones) when he was in Canada, and surely he must have told them he had a new name, in order for them to be able to write to him.  And no doubt he would have explained why.

So I live in hope that at least one of his siblings happened to pass that information on to at least one of their children, who passed it on... etc.  If the reason for the name change was interesting enough, it could have become a bit of a legend amongst the Cockram/Cockrem descendants, of whom there are many, and I hope to make contact with some of them one day.  To that end, I'm currently compiling a list of all the names I know of in the descendancy, in Australia and in England, and I plan to send out a signal to them, one way or another...  If you are one of them, please contact me!