Thomas & Margaret Henderson


cropped-gravesend-waterfront.jpgThe Early Years: Thomas Alfred Henderson

Thomas Alfred Henderson

Thomas Alfred Henderson
Henderson Family Private Collection


lt was at Albany Road in Camberwell that Thomas Alfred Henderson, was born on 20th March 1815 to Thomas Henderson and his wife Caroline (neé Grice)[1]. Thomas’ father was an officer with the 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot enlisting as an ensign and subsequently purchasing his commission as a lieutenant in 1797 and a finally a captain in 1805[2]. As commissioned officers were culled from the upper classes, his father would have been from the gentry and reasonably wealthy to be able to purchase these commissions and advance through the ranks fairly quickly.

Officers were typically placed on half pay when they were between postings or tours of action and with a reduction in army strength, by 1819 Thomas’ father opted to take half pay instead of selling his commission, retaining his title of Captain until his death in 1839. As it would not have been possible for Thomas’ father to support his family on half pay alone it was necessary for him to find a private source of income. By 1819, according to the baptism record for, Emily, the youngest child in the family, Thomas’ father had become a wine and brandy merchant. This was an assured means of making a living as alcohol was an inherent part of life during this period. It was considered perfectly acceptable to drink alcohol during both day and night. Water was generally avoided as a beverage, mainly because of uncertainty about its quality and the dangers associated with drinking dirty or contaminated water.

Illustration: Middle Row, Holborn 1830. A study by Thomas Shepherd of Middle Row, a detached group of buildings that used to stand on Holborn Originally produced for series “London and its Environs in the Nineteenth Century. (1829-1832)”.

Illustration: Middle Row, Holborn 1830. A study by Thomas Shepherd of Middle Row, a detached group of buildings that used to stand on Holborn Originally produced for series “London and its Environs in the Nineteenth Century. (1829-1832)”.

The records also show that the family had moved to Holborn Hill by 1819[3].  Thomas would have been four years old at the time and it would appear that he grew up in this part of London with Charles Street Holborn given as his sister Emily’s address at the time of her marriage in 1840.

There were six children in the Henderson family. The first child was a daughter Caroline Grice Henderson born 1809 and died in 1816 at the age of. 7 years when Thomas was only 18 months old. It is likely that his sister, Caroline, died of the louse-borne typhus fever. Following a severe winter in 1814–15, an economic depression starting in 1815, and a bad harvest in 1816, this three-year visitation of typhus fever was widespread throughout the British Isles, affecting many areas of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The household would have assumed deep mourning on the death of his sister. The period of mourning would have lasted at least twelve months, with the family only visiting close relatives or attending church services. All of the family including the children and their servants would have worn mourning dress of dull, black matte cloth.

Three more daughters were born to the couple. Mary, their second child, was born in 1813 and died 1898. Janette was born in 1817 and died in 1906 and Emily born in 1819 and died in 1899. Charles Fallows their first son was born in 1811 and died in 1889. Two years later on 28 April 1815 their son Thomas Alfred was born.

All of the children including Thomas Alfred were baptized at St Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe, Surrey on the outskirts of London, Thomas was baptized just over a month after his birth on 28th April 1815.

St Mary's Rotherhithe

St Mary’s Rotherhithe

Tragedy struck the family again when Thomas was 5 years of age with the death of his mother when only 32 years old. His mother was buried at St Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe, Surrey on 17 April 1820[4].

About seven years of age Thomas would have been “breeched”, his hair shorn and he began wearing trousers. Up until this time Thomas would have worn a skeleton suits or a form of pantaloons and a frilly tunic. His hair would have been worn long and he would have lived in the nursery or been overseen by women – his  grandmother, aunts, nursemaid, etc. His father would rarely have stepped inside the nursery, which was the province of women.

This was a significant milestone in Thomas’ life, ceasing to be seen as a genderless child and leaving the care of women to be prepared for manhood by his father and other prominent males in the family.

Thomas would have grown up in the noise and pollution of metropolitan London. The homes of the upper and middle class existed in close proximity to areas of unbelievable poverty and filth. In many parts of the city raw sewage flowed in gutters that emptied into the Thames with London residents drinking water from the very same portions of the Thames that received the discharge from open sewers. The air was thick with pollution as the city’s chimneys belched coal smoke resulting in soot settling everywhere.

Crowded streets filled with noise and chaos as street vendors hawked their wares joined by pick-pockets, prostitutes, drunks and beggars of every description. Live cattle were driven through the streets on the way to the slaughter house in the centre of the city. Horse drawn vehicles crowded the streets producing huge amounts of manure which had to be removed. In wet weather straw was scattered in walkways, storefronts, and in carriages to try to soak up the mud and wet.

Given the family’s middle class social status and means, as a male child, Thomas would have been taught in the home during his early years or privately with a tutor. As would be expected of male children of this social standing, Thomas would have been expected to have a “respectable” education and this would probably mean that he was placed in a boarding school around eight years of age, joining his older brother and other young sons of the gentry. As well as the basic skills such as Mathematics, English, and the Classics, Latin and Greek were standard as were languages such as French and Italian.

Whether it was because of finances or because of a lack of inclination it would appear that Thomas did not continue on to University but rather worked with his father in the family business as a wine and brandy merchant once his education was considered complete probably around sixteen years of age.



The Early Years: Margaret Henderson (nee Crosby)

Marg photo

Margaret Henderson Source: Henderson Family Private Collection

Peter James Crosby married Mary Deane at St Leonard’s Shoreditch, London on 20 August 1816. It was just fifteen months after their marriage that their first and only child, Margaret, was born on 23rd November 1817 in the village of Wrotham in Kent. Margaret was baptized in the Wesleyan Church at Sevenoaks, Kent on 21 December 1817. There is no record of Peter’s trade until 1841 when a census shows him to be a licensed victualler running the Lobster Inn in Kent.

Sadness struck early in Margaret’s life with the death of her mother before she was three years of age. It has not been possible to find a record of her mother’s death or burial but by 1 November 1820 her father had remarried to a Mary Durling with the service once again being held at St Leonard’s at Shoreditch and the church record showing him as a widower. There is no record found of any children born of this second marriage.

Attempts at tracing Margaret’s early life have not been successful. There is no record that has been found of her life between her christening and her marriage. It is likely that she grew up in the beautiful village of Seven Oaks in Kent. Following the death of her mother, it is possible that Margaret lived in her maternal grandmother’s household at Seven Oaks

View near Seven Oaks, Kent. Painted by Patrick Naysmith in 1820 (Tate.Museum)

View near Seven Oaks, Kent. Painted by Patrick Naysmith in 1820 (Tate.Museum)

Her grandmother, Margaret Deane, died in 1821 when Margaret was almost four. Whether she remained at Seven Oaks with her maternal relatives is not clear, however, Margaret had a very close connection and fondness to this area as she named her new home in Australia, Seven Oaks. Records show that this part of Kent was also home to her father’s family. Her paternal grandfather, Peter Crosby, and grandmother, Elizabeth Crosby, were buried in Ightham Churchyard in Kent a short distance from Seven Oaks both having died in 1831. Her paternal grandfather’s will describes him as victualler with substantial investment.

Margaret’s grandmother was a wealthy widow. The family was involved in the grocery trade but with investments in land, stock and securities the family would have been regarded as in the middle class of British society. Margaret would have had little control over her life and have been expected to practice correct moral and social standards overseen by her nanny or governess. Her education would either have been at home or in a small school with low academic content and an emphasis on receiving practical training for her domestic role such as sewing, needlework, reading, writing and just enough maths to be able to manage the household budget.

She would also have been expected to acquire other “accomplishments” such as the ability to draw, sing, play music, and speak modern languages such as French. Young women of this period were expected to be modest and dutiful, their reputation, breeding and fortune important factors when calculating their marriageability. Marriage was a serious business with the potential to materially affect a man’s social standing, wealth, power and influence. Margaret as with most women of the upper and middle class of this period expected to be married. While there was an understanding that they would be maintained by their husband and not work outside the home women’s rights were extremely limited in this era. Upon marriage Margaret gave over everything she owned, inherited or earned to her husband. Under the law the married couple became one entity where the husband would represent this entity, placing him in control of all property, earnings and money.

Will of Margaret Deane - the grandmother of Margaret Henderson

Will of Margaret Deane – the grandmother of Margaret Henderson

Increasing Margaret’s marriage potential was the inheritance she was to receive from her maternal grandmother when she reached the age of 22 years.She was left a sum of one hundred and fifty pounds plus interest on that investment from the time of her grandmother’s death in 1821 some 18 years before she reached the required age.
Transcription of  relevant section of Margaret Deane’s Will:
Also I give and bequeath unto my son Thomas Deane and to Mr James Taylor of the Mote Farm in the said Parish of Ightham Gentleman their Executors and Administrators the sum of One hundred and fifty pounds of like lawful money Upon trust that they the said Thomas Deane and James Taylor or the survivor of them his Executors or Administrators do and shall with all convenient speed after my decease lay out and invest the same at Interest in or upon real or Government Security or Securities in their names or in the name of the name of the Survivor of them his Executors or Administrators with full powers for them to alter vary and transpose the same Security or Securities as often as they or he shall think proper And my Will is that my said Trustees or the Survivor of them and the Executors or Administrators of such Survivor shall stand and be possessed of and interested in the same money so to be placed out at Interest as aforesaid and the Interest Dividends and Proceeds thereof and the Stocks Funds and Securities wherein the same shall be so invested Upon trust to pay the same and every part thereof unto my Granddaughter Margaret Crosby the Daughter of Mr Peter James Crosby when she shall attain the age of twenty two years But if my said Granddaughter shall happen to depart this life under the said Age of twenty two years without leaving lawful Issue then it is my Will that the whole of the said Trust money together with the accumulations of Interest then out of the same shall go and be paid unto and amongst my said four sons namely Thomas Deane James Deane William Deane and Richard Deane equally Share and Share alike if they shall be then all living But if any or either of my said four Sons shall have departed this life leaving lawful issue then it is my Will that the Child or Children as with daughters or Sons of such Sons or Son respectively so dying as aforesaid shall be entitled to the Share or Shares of his her or their deceased Parent or Parents equally Share and Share alike And in case either or any of my said Sons shall at such time be dead without leaving issue as aforesaid then I so Will and declare that his or their Share or Shares shall be equally divided amongst the Survivors of them if more than one and if but one then to such only Survivor

Proved at London the 22nd April 1823 before the Judge by the oaths of Thomas Dean the Son & James Taylor the Executors to whom Administration was granted having been first Sworn by Commission duly to Administrator

Kent Genealogy : Transcribed by John Crowson
created by Maureen Rawson,



Marriage of Thomas Alfred and Margaret Henderson 

Thomas and Margaret would have followed the strict protocol of the day which allowed little contact prior to his proposal and then only when chaperoned. As dancing was a large part of the courting process in this period Thomas most likely took this opportunity to speak to Margaret and to get to know holiday party with dancing

The agreement to marriage would have been in a conversation between the pair and by a request for the parents’ permission. They then needed a licence and the reading of banns prior to their marriage After the banns were read in the parish church for three successive Sundays, the couple had to be married in that church between the hours of eight in the morning and noon by an ordained clergyman before two witnesses.

Thomas Alfred Henderson married Margaret Crosby on 6th June 1837 at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, London[1]. Witnesses to the marriage were Margaret’s father, Peter James Crosby and Emily Henderson, sister of Thomas. During this period weddings were mostly private affairs and even fashionable weddings were sparingly attended – not the huge affairs that we know today.

Margaret fell pregnant shortly after her marriage giving birth to their first daughter Mary on 25 April 1838. Two more daughters arrived in quick succession, Margaret on 21 December 1839 and Betsey almost exactly twelve months later on 22 December 1840. Their first child was born in Wrotham but within two years the 1841 Census shows they had moved to West Ham in Essex where Thomas had become the inn keeper at the Prince Regent Ferry House.

The inn had been built in 1811 on the Plaistow side of the Thames close to Prince Regent’s wharf. It was much frequented by sportsmen who went to Plaistow marshes for the shooting. During that period inns were also social centres with locals and travellers alike gathering to discuss local events, wrangle over politics or for entertainment. In later years the inn became a favourite resort for moonlight boating parties. While this seemed a recipe for success the construction of the North Woolwich Railway took away the custom from the Charlton ferry and subsequently the Prince Regent Ferry House which resulted in the demise of the inn at that location.

A recent photo of 2 Cutmore Street

A recent photo of 2 Cutmore Street

Whether due to his increased fortune with the receipt of Margaret’s inheritance or his dislike and lack of success as an innkeeper by 1843 records show that Thomas had changed his profession and had now established himself as a house agent. He would have seen this as a great opportunity as the population increased rapidly after the construction of the railway line. Speculative builders constructed houses for the workers attracted by the new chemical industries established and the nearby Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company  and Tate & Lyle  refinery. Fortunately census records show that they were able to employ two servants to help with the housework. With the number of children increasing in the house this would have been essential for Margaret as housework was much harder in this period with the inside of houses quickly soiled with smoke from oil lamps and candles, and smoke and cinders from coal fires as well as caring for a large family.

In 1843 they had moved to 2 Cutmore Street in Gravesend where their first son, Thomas Charles, was born only to live five short weeks. Margaret appears to have deeply suffered at the loss of this child as it is another three years before the birth of their next child, a daughter, Janette, in January, 1846. Their next son, again called Thomas, was born in November, 1847 followed less than 12 months later by another son Charles Alfred on 10 October, 1849. Eighteen months after the birth of Charles another daughter Caroline was added to the household in July 1851.

Records show that they had moved to 2 Milton Road Gravesend around 1851 (unfortunately this area has changed substantially and a current photo does not illustrate the home that they lived in at this location). At the time they moved to Gravesend it was experiencing a boom period. Business was thriving and bathing establishments and pleasure grounds opened up, the most famous of these being Rosherville Gardens, which rivalled the Vauxhall Gardens in London and attracted thousands of visitors. Taverns, hotels, coffee shops, dining rooms and tea rooms flourished in the area.

London Illustrated News: Fire High Street Gravesend

London Illustrated News: Fire High Street Gravesend

This situation was to change with a devastating fire destroying the shops in High Street in 1850. Unfortunately with the increase in population came many of the problems associated with the metropolitan areas of London – a thickening pall of smoke caused by coal fires, a high incidence of alcoholism, violence and other social disorders and a proliferation of epidemics (consumption, dysentery, smallpox, typhus and dropsy). These epidemics were the likely cause of the death of Thomas ’sister Emily in 1852 and her husband in 1848.

 Margaret must often have wished for the countryside of Sevenoaks best described by Dickens in Little Dorritt”:

”In the country, the rain would have developed a thousand fresh scents, and every drop would have had its bright association with some beautiful form of growth or life. In the city, it developed only foul stale smells, and was a sickly, lukewarm, dirt stained, wretched addition to the gutters.”

Gravesend is situated on the boundary of the port of London at the mingling of the rivers of the Thames, the Medway and the North Sea, where all vessels arriving from foreign countries deliver their manifests, and take on board immigrants looking for a new start to life. Living in Gravesend Thomas would have come into contact with many people with first hand knowledge of Australia, and their accounts of the colony could have influenced his decision to emigrate. In addition, private employment recruitment commenced in earnest around 1850 with more and more advertising and glowing reports in newspapers and periodicals. Dickens also published his novel “David Copperfield” in 1850 which included the tale of the successful immigration of Mr Micawber who prospers in Australia and becomes a Magistrate.

Shipping poster promoting emigration from England

Shipping poster promoting emigration from England

Regardless of the reasons for emigration, it was the most far-reaching decision they were to make in their lifetime.

All over England at this time, families sat over tables and by firesides where emigration was the subject of long and painful deliberation. They were conscious of the dangerous voyage involved to a distant and unfamiliar country. They considered how difficult adaptation might be in a new land and whether they might face  unrelenting longing for what they left behind. Undoubtedly they saw the potential for a better life for themselves and opportunities for their children that would not be possible in the England they were leaving behind and were prepared to take the risk despite Margaret being pregnant with her ninth child.

Charles Dickens’ description of London  provides some insight into what life was like in London and would undoubtedly been one of the factors that had driven them to take the risk and emigrate:

“It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarreling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.”

Charles Dickins. Oliver Twist. 1838

Their voyage to Australia was not without incident – to read more about the next part of their journey…

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