‘All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again’ – (Ecclesiastes 3)
Martha Anne Blackwood was born in 1874, in the small settlement of Hotspur, at a crossing of the Crawford River, about 60 km north of Portland, Victoria, in Australia. Martha was the eleventh of twelve children of James Blackwood and Hannah Mickleborough.
Her parents were born and raised in Hethel, a small rural parish to the south-west of Norfolk, in England. They married in 1832. James Blackwood was my first cousin 3x removed, and would have been a companion of the children of my great great grandfather, Robert Blackwood (1809-1867).
Indeed, it was not only James and Hannah who migrated to Australia in about 1857. They were preceded by his sister, Susanna, and her husband, Robert Lane, who settled in Longford, Tasmania. And they were followed by their brother, Isaac, who settled in Digby, about 20 km north of Hotspur.
And between the three siblings, they eventually had at least twenty-four children in total. It can be no surprise that there are lot of Australians who can trace their ancestry to Hethel, in Norfolk!
In 1899, Martha Anne gave birth to a son, Clement. The father’s name was not recorded on the birth record. In the photo, taken in about 1912, Clement has his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. To me, that gesture suggests that he respected the old man.
Clement eventually moved from Hotspur, and by 1932 he was living at 51 Bancroft Street in Portland, being employed as a labourer. At the same address was listed Annie Elizabeth Victoria Blackwood, Clement’s cousin and eleven years his senior. She died in 1971 and in the probate records, she was listed as a spinster. Clement died in 1977.
Nothing further is known about Martha Blackwood, until the following report that appeared in the Portland Guardian on Thursday 23 August 1951.
ELDERLY WOMAN FOUND BURNT
An aged woman who dwelt alone in an old bush cottage near Hotspur was found dead last week, apparently having been burned to death during the night or early morning. She was Mrs Martha Anne Blackwood, aged 78. The dead woman was found during the morning by a lad named Edge, who delivered bread once weekly to the cottage, lying on the kitchen floor with all her clothing burned off. The body was brought to the Portland mortuary, where a post mortem examination was held, and an inquest opened by Mr. W. H.Matthews, J.P., of Heywood. After evidence of identification, the inquest was adjourned to a date to be fixed. The post mortem examination revealed that Mrs Blackwood had suffered extensive first and second degree burns and some asphyxiation. The cottage in the heart of the bush in which Mrs Blackwood lived, was built of large wooden slabs and it is probably the fact of its stout construction that it did not ignite. It is thought that Mrs Blackwood, who was in the habit of sitting dozing in front of a fire set in the large open-type colonial oven rather than going to bed, and who habitually wore a heavy shawl, fell forward into the fire. A kerosene lamp was still burning when the body was discovered. Mrs. Blackwood, who is survived by a son, Mr. Clem Blackwood, of Portland, had lived alone for some years. She had persistently rejected suggestions that she should leave her home and go elsewhere where she would be cared for.
It was a tragic ending to the life of an independent old woman.
I do not know where Martha was buried or whether her grave was ever marked. I would like to think that her remains were taken to the Hotspur graveyard to join those of many of her siblings. Unfortunately, the Hotspur graveyard today looks forlorn and neglected, with few marked graves.
But there is at least one Blackwood grave there and perhaps there are others.
One day, before it’s too late, I hope that a descendant of the Blackwood family will visit the Hotspur area to record and photograph for posterity the little that remains of their roots.
Before all is reclaimed by the bush.