I had some fun back in August of this year chasing the elusive John Newton Cree. I first saw him in Queensland, Australia, so to speak, where fellow Cree researcher Kerry Raymond had noted some details of his life and death. She may have suspected he was related her Scottish Cree rellies in Brisbane, but would have drawn a blank in trying to find a connection.
It is fortunate that Australian death records, including the official indexes, give the names of the deceased's parents. It may even be fortunate too that JNC had told his wife that his mother's name was Sarah Newton, because she had died when he was just three years old. With this vital information I soon traced his birth to the town of Bishop Auckland in County Durham, England, where the baptismal register showed his name as John Newton Cree son of John Cree and Sarah Newton, exactly matching his death record in Brisbane some ten thousand miles and 74 years distant. The line goes back to JNC's great-great-grandparents, Thomas Cree and Elizabeth Todd, who were married in Gateshead, County Durham, in 1758. So JNC was not related to the Scottish Crees of Brisbane.
JNC probably had a turbulent life as a youngster. He cannot even be found in the 1871 Census. By 1881 he was recorded as the 17-year-old son of Jane Cree, a widow. After his mother had died, John's father had married Jane Jackson, but had died himself at the age of 47, so JNC was actually Jane's stepson. He was then an apprentice joiner. I then found his marriage back in England, also in Bishop Auckland, in 1903 at the age 29. This confused me. I knew that the Brisbane John Newton Cree had emigrated - and married - before this. Were there two John Newton Crees? To avoid confusing you I will come back to this later.
Part of the confusion was that I knew he was in Australia well before 1903. By the age of 20 he had sailed on the "Oban Bay" landing at Townsville, Queensland, on 19 July 1883. As I already knew, nine years later, he married Elizabeth Ann Smith. She was 21 and had been in Australia just two years, having come from the village of Willington just 4 miles (7 km.) from Bishop Auckland in County Durham. Did he write to an old girl-friend and ask her to join him? Or were they strangers who found their common origins a point of interest to start a relationship? Whatever the circumstance of their meeting, they were married in 1892.
Four years later they were living near Childers, Queensland, over 300 km north of Brisbane, where John was a carpenter. At some time after this they returned to England, for in 1901 were living in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, where John was a foreman erecting colliery machinery. There were definitely no children in the household then, although two lodgers were both "aboveground colliery joiners."
My confusion was at last cleared up when I found that Elizabeth had died the following year, aged 33. There was only one John Newton Cree. We have no record of Elizabeth and John having any children.
In 1903 John Newton Cree was back in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, where he married Esther Mossom Blanchard. No record of Esther's birth has been traced. She first appeared in the record at the age of seven in the 1881 Census for Dene Bridge, Chilton, which is about four miles (7 km.) from Bishop Auckland. She is shown as the adopted daughter of William Thomas Blanchard, a 40-year-old widower who was an engine fitter. Clearly when William and his wife Martha adopted Esther, they gave her their surname, which would explain why her birth record cannot be traced.
John and Esther Cree had four children at Bishop Auckland. John may have been demonstrating his love for Australia when he named the first two Adelaide and Sidney. In 1911 they were living at 64 Bondgate, Bishop Auckland, and John was a fish dealer. Later that year their fourth child Ethel was born and they were soon laying plans to migrate to Queensland. Esther and the children boarded the "Norseman" in London on 1st April 1912, arriving in Brisbane on 30 September. John himself was not on the passenger list and may have sailed ahead of them. Of course it was his second voyage to Australia.
Looking at the Brisbane electoral rolls I began to think that JNC had married a third time. Year after year he is shown living with a Hester Cree. It was only when she gave her name as Hester Mossom Cree that I twigged that Hester was really Esther. The electoral rolls show them living at Hamilton Road and later Holme Street, both in the Brisbane suburb of Moorooka, while John carried on his carpentry at Merton Street.
Electoral rolls do not show children, but the eldest, Adelaide, did well enough at school to merit a mention at the annual prizegiving of Rocklea State School in 1916. She won the Class V prizes for industry and attendance and shared the prize for the best flower garden. In 1918 she performed a musical item at a fund raising evening in Moorooka. She went on to become a teacher and is shown as such on the electoral roll at her parents' home in 1925. However she resigned her teaching post in 1927 in order to marry James Fyfe in Suva, Fiji.
The second child, Sidney, puts in court appearances in 1927 and 1931, according to the Brisbane Courier, and was fined £3 the first time and then "for exceeding the speed limit Sidney Cree of Holme street Moorooka [was]... fined £5." The electoral roll shows him at home in 1937.
Dora, the third of the Cree children, is not heard of until her Brisbane marriage to William Mackey in 1931.
The youngest, Ethel, went to a children's fancy dress ball in 1925 when she was 14. (She dressed as a Dutch boy.) She married Gordon Maltman in 1935 in Brisbane.
It was in that year that John Newton Cree, who almost always used his full name, perhaps to honour the mother he would not remember, passed away. He was buried in South Brisbane cemetery where a headstone bears the inscription. "In loving memory of my dear husband John Newton Cree died 10th Aug 1937 aged 74 years."
Esther, or Hester as she was known after arriving in Australia, continued to appear in the electoral rolls at Holme Street (sometimes Holmes Street) until 1980 when she would have been 107 years old. Perhaps the rolls were not updated very carefully. Her son Sidney was there from 1937 and 1972 although he served in the Australian Army from 1942 to 1944, finishing as a corporal. I cannot find reports of Esther's or Sidney Cree's deaths.
For details of the references and JNC's genealogy see the Cree Genealogy Database at http://www.cree.name/person.htm?id=2849