James Emptage was born in Queensborough, Isle of Sheppey, in 1795, the grandson of William Emptage and Ann Fisher, who head the Sheppey tree.
James married Charlotte Messenger in 1816. He was a dredgerman, meaning that he would have had a small sailing boat or even a rowing boat with which he would have towed a type of bucket known as a dredge along the seabed to scoop up items. These may have been items dropped when ships were unloading or he may have dredged for oysters off the shore.
James became a coastguard. In those days coastguards were moved around the country, to prevent them becoming corrupted by smugglers! So two of his children were born in Queenborough, one in Sussex, three in Devon and the last one in Filey, Yorkshire in 1831 by which time he was chief coastguard in the area. James died in Filey in 1841, aged 46 and Charlotte died in Filey aged 78, in 1873.
It was James and Charlotte’s two surviving sons, James Mayers and William who moved to Grimsby, Lincolnshire, some 70 miles south by road.
At one time Grimsby had been a major fishing and trading port on the east coast, at the entrance to the river Humber but in the 15th century the area had begun to silt up, preventing ships in the river Humber from docking and so it had fallen into decline.
However, in 1796 a company was formed by Act of Parliament for the purpose of “widening, deepening, enlarging, altering and improving the Haven of the Town and Port of Great Grimsby”. After dredging of The Haven and related improvement, in the early 19th century the town grew rapidly as the port was revived. Grimsby’s port boomed, importing iron, timber, wheat, hemp and flax. New docks were needed to cope with the expansion and the railway arrived in 1848.
Once again, Grimsby was becoming a major fishing and trading port. It was the ideal place for two young men to begin their working lives as mariners and to settle and raise families. Between them they established the Emptage branch in Grimsby.
William was born in 1821 and married Susannah Harvison in 1845. He was then serving on Her Majesty’s Revenue Cruiser Lapwing. They had six children, two of whom died in infancy.
James Mayers was born in 1817 and married Elizabeth Harvison in 1837. Their first of eight children was born in December 1837. At that time James was a Merchant Navy seaman on the SS Nancy, a ship which regularly carried passengers to Australia. He doesn’t appear on the 1851 census so he was presumably at sea. On the 1861 census, aged 44, he stated that he was a Royal Navy officer. To quote David Emptage when he compiled the tree, “this was a bit of wishful thinking on his part as he was actually a steward in the Merchant Navy!”
Elizabeth and James Mayers had been married 57 years before Elizabeth died in 1894 aged 77. James Mayers died in 1902, aged 84. They were buried alongside each other in Grimsby.
James Mayer and Elizabeth named their third child James Harvison Emptage. He married Mary Ann Munson in 1862. They had eleven daughters and two sons between 1863 and 1888. James Harvison was a mast and block maker.
Emily Henrietta Emptage was James Harvison and Mary Ann’s third child.
She was baptised on 2nd February 1868 at St James Church, Grimsby. The family were living in King Edward Street, Grimsby, the same street that her father lived in with his parents before he married, close to the docks and his work.
Unusually for the baptism registers of the time, the dates of birth were added in the margins and Emily was noted as born on 11 January 1868. This agrees with her birth registration in the 1st quarter of 1868, in the Caistor district.
On 23 November 1886, Emily married William Edmonson Chafer at St Philips Church, Hull. They were both said to be 21 and both were living at 11 Aldborough Street, Hull. William was described on the certificate as a mariner.
Hull is a port on the Yorkshire side of the river Humber and was a good base for a mariner to live. It is further upstream from Grimsby which is on the south side.
Contrary to the age given on the marriage certificate, we have two records which prove that Emily Henrietta was born in January 1868, so she was only 18 years and 10 months when she married. She wouldn’t have been 21 until January 1889. So it seems clear that Emily had left home to be with William, was living with him in Hull and lied when she said she was 21 when they got married. She needed to be 21 in order to be married without her parents’ permission.
William Edmonson Chafer was born on 13 December 1865 in Grimsby. In 1881 he was living with his parents in Grimsby and was an apprentice seaman. When he married Emily he was still three weeks short of his 21st birthday, so they both lied by saying they were 21.
It seems that by June 1887 William was an able bodied seaman aboard a merchant ship, Old Kensington. It was a square rigged clipper built in 1874 in Liverpool, for the Australian wool trade.
It seems that many seaman, both Royal Navy and Merchant Navy sailors, jumped ship once they arrived in Australia. A Register of Deserters from ships was kept in Victoria, Australia.
It shows that William, aged 21, together with another crew member aged 22, also born in Grimsby, deserted on 5 June 1887. However, it seems that two months later he re-shipped in the Copsefield which was then in Melbourne.
I’ve not found any service records for William so we have no idea what happened next but we know that Emily arrived in Melbourne in January 1889 aboard the SS Orizaba.
The passenger list describes her as married, aged 21, and a cabin passenger. It was a long voyage, expected to take 75 days. I wonder whether Emily, still a young woman, found it daunting or exciting to set out on such a voyage by herself.
Emily and William remained in Melbourne for the rest of their lives, raising their family. William Chafer died in 1848 aged 83 after 61 years of marriage and Emily Henrietta died in 1960 aged 92.
Their grandson, Bruce Fisher writes:
G’day! to all the Emptage readers! I’m writing this introduction to the Emptage family group from my home in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It’s a weatherboard house my bride of 60+yrs. Patricia (nee Robinson) and I had built when we married in 1957. I’ve attached a photo of Trish and I together, it was a few years ago, but the likeness is okay!
My intention is basically to introduce myself and my attachment to the Emptage lineage. I’ve made my journey thus far by making contact with one of the originators of this family group, Susan Morris. It was she who asked me to write about my family’s history.
I shall be honest as I write this bit of human history and say….I really didn’t know what to write, or where to begin, so I hope you all accept my effort for what it is!!!
I’m Bruce Andrew Fisher, aged 84, born 5th January 1936. I was born at a village just down the road at Blackburn. My mother was Ethel Victoria Fisher (nee Chafer). She was married to Frank Fisher who was born in 1898, the same year as as mum. Our home then was in Forest Hill.
There were two elder sisters before me, Valma Lorraine, and Jocelyn Ray. Sadly at this time I am the sole member of our immediate family still alive!
My mum was born in Melbourne city, the 5th child born to my grandmother Emily Henrietta Emptage and our grandfather William Edmondson Chafer. They were known to us as Nanna and Fa.
He was then a watchman, a live-in job, at a city building, 114 Elizabeth street, Melbourne. I was told that, before this, Fa was installing steam lifts into the city buildings, as he had trained at sea from the age of 15 with sail and steam.
I was also told that Fa was aged about 21 when he and a few others “jumped ship” when it arrived in Melbourne in June 1887, soon after Fa and Nanna had married at Hull. I guess he must have been “crew”. Of course, Nanna was still back in England.
NOW, this is what I was told by my mother: “Nanna’s family would not allow her to come out here until Fa had acquired a home for her! AND that she was only aged 16yrs! THEN they were later married by “proxy”, with William in Australia and Emily still in England.
WHY had my mother given me this story which I now know as false, as I have the marriage certificate of Fa and Nanna at Hull, when she was 18 and he was 21???
WHY did my grandfather jump ship so soon after their marriage in 1886?
Was it pre arranged, that William would jump ship the next time he was in Australia and that Emily would then follow him out. She arrived in Australia in January 1889, having travelled on the ship RMS Orizaba, I believe as a paying passenger. Who paid for her passage?
Poor Nanna. After she arrived here in Melbourne she virtually had no life of her own apart from producing and raising children.
1891 William Edmondson, died age 12
1893 Alfred Frank, died 1894
1894 James H.E.
1896 Mary Alma
1898 Ethel Victoria (who became my mum)
1902 John Havercroft
1905 Winifred Dorythea
1908 Emily B.
When my mum was aged 5, the family moved out to where Fa had purchased 3 acres of land (where we now live) and had built a house. Well I shan’t call it that! It was a shack, with no floors, just the clay earth, the boys had to sleep outside in tents, no water supply, no power.
From what I know of the lives of my grandmother and grandfather, William Edmondson Chafer, (Fa) was the dominant figure. Nanna just seemed to flow with the current, and I’m afraid that river wasn’t easy to navigate, I believe the Chafer household was poor and there was always a massive struggle for a decent living. Mum always said that Fa became a heavy consumer of alcohol and was not easy to live with.
I have made contact with a few of the Emptage family during my searching for family and met David Emptage, another of the founders of this Emptage group, as he also lived in Melbourne.
I apologise for not being an organized human, as I’m ageing. I’ve put all paper files and notes into cardboard boxes, with no index or other references so I need heaps of time to sort stuff out! Sadly I am no longer, if ever, a methodical human! However, I did find the photo of Nanna, Emily Henrietta, with her daughters.
I am also not computer literate as, when I was still with Victoria Police, on the “one day” the staff from headquarters came out to the station I was attached to, to show staff how to operate computers, I was on a rest day!! After that I was forbidden to touch computers!!
I was at that time a sergeant in charge of a crime car when in 1982 I suffered a severe breakdown on duty. I was eventually discharged medically unfit for further duties in 1984 after 26 years service!
I know very little about the Emptage family and there’s a lot of questions I could have asked but, as life happens, NOW they’ve all gone. I wondered IF there are any descendants of Nanna’s siblings still alive anywhere that I could communicate with?
I don’t get about physically as I once did but I am, thankfully, still a caring human and I appreciate communicating via emails with others. So after writing this I’d just like to say G’day to all surviving Emptage related families! xxxxx Bruce A Fisher.
Bruce recounts the family story which he was told about his grandparents marriage but the problem with family stories is that they become myths. Where once there was a certain amount of fact and truth, they become corrupted by frequent telling over the years and from generation to generation. Some facts are omitted, some embellishments are added. The role of the family historian is to seek the truth behind such stories, so let us examine the facts.
As Bruce recounts it, the family story was that “”Nanna’s family would not allow her to come out here until Fa had acquired a home for her! AND that she was only aged 16yrs! THEN they were later married by “proxy”, with William in Australia and Emily still in England”.
Both living in Grimsby at the time, it was quite possible that Emily and William had met when she was sixteen, some time in 1884. William would then have been 19. He didn’t jump ship in Melbourne until June 1887, so the question of Emily being prevented from going to Australia before then couldn’t have arisen.
It is extremely unlikely that there was any form of proxy marriage as such marriages were deemed invalid. However, we know that there was a real marriage.
And we know that, even though the marriage certificate says that they were both 21, Emily was only 18 and 10 months and William was still 7 weeks short of his 21st birthday when they married in 1886. And that they married not in Grimsby but in Hull, where they were both living at the same address. This clearly indicates that Emily had left home and was marrying William without her parents’ permission, which was required for the marriage of a minor.
What we don’t know is where Emily was living once William had gone back to sea. Did she return to her parents’ house? And, because she’d married when she was under age, was she forbidden by them to leave again until William could provide a home for her?
The second part of the story is that William had jumped ship and that Emily had joined him in Melbourne. Well, yes, we have proof that William had jumped ship from the Old Kensington in June 1887 and that Emily arrived in Melbourne in January 1889. However, the same record which confirms that William had jumped ship also states that he re-signed to another ship just two months later. Did he jump ship a second time or did he leave that ship in Melbourne legitimately?
Bruce asks who paid for Emily’s passage to Australia. Whilst William was working as a seaman, did he have his wage paid to Emily, so that she could save it for her passage to Australia? Travelling as a cabin passenger would have been rather more expensive than travelling in steerage, where conditions were cramped and crowded and very few immigrants could afford to travel as a cabin passenger.
So, yes, there are some facts which gave rise to the family story but, as with most family stories, they have become scrambled during the telling of the story and now resemble a myth. But a fascinating one.
If you are descended from any of Emily Henrietta’s relatives, Bruce would love to hear from you. Please contact me here and I will forward your emails to Bruce.