I was 42 when I first became a father. To say that the news ‘rocked my boat’ would have been an understatement; it was more like a tsunami hitting me. I had never had any roots, and if any had ever started to sprout, I moved to new pastures. If I ever thought about having children, I would have dismissed it as something that might happen one day, but not just yet. I was a nomad at heart. Some would say I still am.
But I eventually got used to the inevitability of fatherhood, although I could only ever envisage having a daughter. I was never ‘one of the lads’; I loved women and their company. The idea of having a smelly little snot-nosed son did not much appeal.
Eventually ‘launch day’ arrived and the only name for the baby that we had considered was Lucy Ann. If the baby turned out to be a boy, we would cross that bridge when we came to it. At least that was how I remembered it.
So, the baby had no name for the first couple of days, until someone in the hospital suggested the name Andrew, as he was born on Saint Andrew’s Day. I happily agreed and added Douglas, which was my own second name and my mother’s maiden name.
It was not until after a couple of days at home that I was left alone with Andrew, while his mother went grocery shopping. Predictably the door had barely closed, when he evacuated his little bowels, and left me in previously uncharted territory. By the time I had completed the clean-up, he and I were the best of friends and all that winter, during the weekends, he used to lie in my arms, while I watched rugby and other sports on the television.
Then there was Robert Charles, again not a girl, followed by John William, most definitely not a girl. When Philip James was born, the idea of a daughter called Lucy Ann was abandoned; four children under seven is quite a handful in any society, especially when there are no relatives to help out.
So who was Lucy Ann, after whom I had wanted to name a daughter?
Lucy Ann English (1846-1934) was one of my great grandmothers. She was married to William Blackwood of Hethel, about whom I mentioned in a previous article. I have no idea what her name appealed to me, but I loved the sound of it.
She was born and raised in Mulbarton, a few kilometres south-west of Norwich. She had a younger brother, James, born in 1849, but two years later her mother, Lucy, died in Thorpe Lunatic Asylum of an internal hernia. Perhaps it was the result of a difficult birth. Lucy Ann’s father remarried in 1856, but his new wife died less than three years later.
Lucy Ann’s grandfather, James English (1788-1861), lived in the same village with his third wife, the previous two having died. When I was researching this branch of my family many years ago, I was unable to locate James in the 1841 census, but found him in both the 1851 census and that of 1861. It puzzled me, for he was nowhere to be found in the UK. I wondered if he had gone abroad for a few years.
It was not until quite recently that I discovered where he was in 1841. He was not with his wife in Mulbarton for a very good reason. He was in the County Gaol & House of Correction of Norwich Castle. At the Count Session of 30 June, 1841, he was convicted of larceny and sentenced to imprisonment. He was perhaps lucky to have been imprisoned in England, for up until a few years earlier, he might have been transported to a penal colony, such as Australia.
Lucy Ann would have known her grandfather, James. She was 15 when he died. I have no idea if she knew of his imprisonment, but I suspect that, in a small village, it would have been common knowledge.
There are many James in my ancestry, both in England and in Ireland. In his second name, my youngest son carries their memory. Many Australians are proud of having been descended from a convict. In its way, it is a form of inverted snobbery.
I can identify myself with that.