Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
By this criteria alone my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather truly earned the title of ‘great’, and after recently learning of his story I sincerely hope we all have the opportunity to live such rich lives.
Here is his story – with heartfelt thanks to my mother who pulled together the research.
HENRY EDWARDS – born Nov 18, 1812 in London – was a hawker. At the age of 20 he was convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation for picking pockets. The spoils of his failed robbery; a used handkerchief valued at three shillings.
After his arrest, Henry was taken to Newgate Gaol before being moved to the Hulks at Chatham on October 5, 1833, where he spent time on both the “Cumberland” and the “Fortitude” before sailing to Sydney on board the “Henry Tanner” to begin his sentence of seven years servitude.
Upon arrival in Sydney the twenty year old convict was assigned to John Thorn, chief constable at Parramatta, and by 1837 Henry was working at Emu Plains on the Government Agricultural Farm set up by Governor Macquarie. However, this dark period of Henry’s life was soon to change when he met Mary Ann Tye.
In 1840 Henry married Mary, a seventeen year old free settler, and over the coming years they raised twelve children in their various homes in Glebe, Newtown and St. Peters. Upon receiving his Certificate of Freedom, Henry worked hard and became a successful businessman, owning brickworks and property at Newtown and St. Peters, yet despite his hard-won success, Henry had a problem; alcohol had taken over his life.
In 1857 Henry had had enough, and in the Family Bible he inscribed “I, Henry Edwards, this 27th day of July 1857, take up my pen to signed (sic) against drinking eney kine (sic) of intoxicating drinks escept as medicin (sic)”.
Henry’s mother, a Wesleyan Methodist, was no doubt overjoyed that “the backslider came home to His Saviour” when he attended an open-air service at Glebe in 1852, where from this time on he remained a member of the Wesleyan Church at Glebe and then the Primitive Methodist Church in May St., St. Peters.
After signing the pledge, Henry became active in the establishment and running of the Primitive Methodist Church (which still exists today) where his headstone still rests in the grounds. A staunch churchman, he held practically every office open to a layman in the Church, eventually becoming a well respected citizen.
A year after Mary died on May 9, 1868 Henry married widow Eliza Goodsell Howard (nee Payne) who had eight children; together they had four daughters. When he died on Sept 1, 1891 he was buried in St. Peters C/E Church and at 3pm on Thursday, 2nd September, 1891, his flower covered coffin was carried from his home in Cooks River Road to the Primitive Methodist Church by twelve of his former employees.
Leading the procession were eleven clergymen followed by Henry’s thirty five grandchildren and great grandchildren, all carrying floral wreaths. Immediately following the coffin were his wife, eighteen of his immediate family and over two hundred mourners.
An illuminated text of his funeral can be found at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, which states that over 290 mourners attended his funeral, including 11 ministers. Whilst there are many stories of Henry’s life, one being that he owned at least two family Bibles, the one I hope the most is true is that the he is believed to have stopped drinking for the sake of his children.
Mary and Henry had the following children: Susan Ann, Richard, Henry, Mary, William, James, Matilda, Charles, Jane, Alfred, David and Pricilla, and Henry had another four daughters, Mary, Amy, Amy Lillian and Emily May by Eliza Goodsell Howard.
Henry was a petty criminal who became a convict. A convict who became a husband. A husband who became a father. A man whose life was once at the mercy of the state, and who bore the scars of servitude to prove it, who went on to build a successful life as a businessman, parishioner and community leader.
Emerson penned in his poem that his definition of success was “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
By this simple standard, I believe my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was the very benchmark of success despite such humble beginnings. I hope we all have the good fortune to have our ancestors remember us as fondly for whatever contribution we make during our brief time on this third rock from the sun…