Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Story of Ellen Cusack

This week I'm telling the story of my paternal great grandmother Ellen Cusack  (1862 - 1942).

In the year of Ellen's birth, the first railway opened in New Zealand, Victor Hugo's French historical novel 'Les Miserables' was published, Westminster Bridge was opened in London, and the Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart successfully crossed the Australian continent from north to south on his third attempt.

Born in July of 1862 in New South Wales, Ellen's father Patrick Cusack was 31 years old and her mother Eliza Exton was 24.  Ellen's birth certificate states she was born in a place known as Rose Hill on the Richmond River.

I've not been able to find Rose Hill on any present day map nor found any mention of this place in the history of Richmond River.  Given however that her father's occupation was listed as 'cedar cutter', it's likely that Rose Hill might have been a camp beside one of the Richmond River creeks where the cedar was being felled, cut and transported down the river to be sold.

Ellen's father, Patrick Cusack, would have been part of the second wave of cedar cutter's that came to the Richmond River.  These men settled with their families in the areas they were working.  The easily accessible trees, close to the river, would have all been harvested by this time, and the second wave of cedar cutter's would have had to move further inland into the thick forests beyond the river.

It's interesting to note that Ellen's grandmother, Susannah Exton, was listed as a witness on the birth certificate.  At that time Ellen's grandmother Susannah, grandfather James Exton, her parents Patrick and Eliza, and several of her aunts and uncles were living close by.

There were already five children in the family when Ellen was born.
Thomas had come along in 1853.
Susannah came along in 1855.
James was born in 1856.
Then came Patrick in 1858.
Ann was born in 1860.

After Ellen was born, there were another five children added to the family.

Eliza was born in 1864, when Ellen was 2 years old.
Julia was born in 1867.
William came along in 1869.
Sarah was born in 1871.
Then finally, Mary was born in 1874, when Ellen was aged 12.

Ellen and her siblings would have grown up in cedar cutter's camps, which would have been a harsh way of life for the families of the men who spent long days sawing wood.

Sadly, in May of 1876, when Ellen was only 13 years of age, her father died.  Her sister Mary, who was only 2 years of age, also died the same year; as did her Grandfather James.

I haven't been able to find out what happened to Ellen, her widowed mother and her siblings in the immediate aftermath of all this tragedy.  I imagine that Ellen's mother Eliza would have found comfort and support within her extended family, the Extons, during this time.

In 1883, at the age of 21, Ellen married Richard Gordon Brown in Lismore, New South Wales.  He was aged 22.  As a point of interest, Richard's occupation was listed as 'timber cutter', which had been Ellen's father's occupation as well.

Another interesting fact was that details on the marriage certificate indicate that Ellen and Richard were married at the residence of one Rev. Hugh Livingstone according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church.  They were not married in a church or chapel, but that was quite commonplace in those days in the Richmond River area, where churches/chapels were very light-on-the-ground.

Ellen and Richard went on to have four daughters during their marriage.
My paternal Grandmother Grace was born in 1885, when Ellen was 22 years old.
Lillian was born in 1887, when Ellen was aged 25.
Elsie came along in 1890, when Ellen was 28.
Marcella was born in 1892, when Ellen was 30.

By 1885 Ellen's husband was no longer working as a timber cutter.  On the birth certificate of their first daughter, Richard's profession was recorded as 'labourer' and the family were living in the township of  Lismore.

Sadly for Ellen she experienced quite a deal of loss from the time of her marriage until her own passing.

She lost her brother Thomas in 1886 when she was 24 years old.

Her brother William died in 1901 when she was 38 years old.

Ellen's eldest daughter Lillian died in 1911, when Ellen was aged 49.

Ellen's mother Eliza passed in 1914.  By this time Ellen was 52.

Ellen's brother James died in 1915.

Ellen's nephew Ernest Thomas Cusack died of influenza while he was overseas fighting during World War 1.

Ellen's sister Eliza died in 1921.

Ellen's brother Patrick died in 1924.

Her sister Ann died in 1941.

Ellen herself died in 1942 at the age of 79.  The cause of death was cancer.

Ellen was survived by her husband Richard, three of her daughters and three of her sisters.

At this point, I'm going to make mention of the prompt for Week 29 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.  The prompt is:  Music; and I found out an interesting fact whilst putting together my great grandmother's story.

There was an Australian musical play named "The Cedar Tree" which ran in 1934/1935 at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, and then in 1935 at the Criterion Theatre in Sydney.

The musical told the story of cedar cutters and boat builders on the Hawkesbury River in the 1840s.

The production starred one of our famous Australian singers, Gladys Moncrieff, who was known around the world at that time.

I wonder if my great grandmother read about the production in a newspaper or perhaps heard it about it in a news bulletin on the wireless.

Ellen would have been in her early 70s at the time, and no doubt would have regaled family members and friends with her own stories about cedar tree forests along the Richmond River and the day-to-day life of cedar cutters' families.

Given that her father, her grandfather, various uncles and grand uncles had all worked for many, many years as cedar cutter's, Ellen had a rich background she could have shared with her descendants.

Special Note to any family members:  If you have and further information to share, can I graciously ask that you do so.  Please use the comments box below or email me.  It may prove to be invaluable to the story and provide future generations with something to truly treasure.

Extra note:  I'm joining Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project / challenge.

The prompt for Week 29 is 'Music'.

You can join by blogging or posting on social media with the tag #52ancestors.

Check out this FB page:  Amy Johnson Crow


  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    Thank you, Chris


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