‘My grandparents’ love story taught me to love my mixed-race heritage’

Jun 26, 2019
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Wendy loves her family history. Source: Pixabay

I never knew my grandparents, however, I know I would have loved them. Their story, which I’m sharing, was told to me by my aunt.

Thomas Cummings worked on sailing ships. He had done since his teens; he loved the wind and the sea and all the different ports that the ship would dock at. Thomas was 31 years old and born in the West Indies, Jamaica to be precise. He was as free as the wind, but that was all about to change.

The ship he was on was docked in London, United Kingdom. It was heading to Sydney, Australia — a long journey to say the least. It was 1899 and Australia was the ‘New Land’ to start a new life.

Thomas was loading the cargo and spied a pretty young woman with beautiful auburn hair and skin like peaches and cream. She had two children in her care and Thomas left the loading to help her with her charges. The woman’s name was Elizabeth Bowden and she was the governess of the two children. She was taking them to join their father in Sydney as their mother had died.

Elizabeth was 19 and had never even been to London before. It must have been daunting, looking after these two children in a strange city. They would all start new life in Australia; Elizabeth would become a school teacher once she delivered the children to their father. She had no family, her parents and her brother had died, and she felt it was the right thing for her to do. I feel it was very brave for a young lass.

Thomas had never felt like this before and he took every opportunity to talk to Elizabeth when she was up on the deck. Theirs began as a friendship. Elizabeth felt comfortable talking to Thomas and before too long she would look for him when she was on the deck. He would talk to her and the children and tell stories of adventures he’d had at sea. Elizabeth had started to fall for Thomas and could sometimes not even catch her breath when in his presence. She was sure Thomas could hear her heart beat louder and faster whenever he was around her.

Thomas and Elizabeth fell in love on their way to Sydney. It did not matter the colour of his skin or that they were different religions, they loved each other. Thomas asked Elizabeth to marry him once they landed in Sydney and she accepted.

The journey was long and dangerous with some sailing vessels being lost at sea, however, the SS Arayaba was not one of them and eventually the ship docked in Sydney Harbour in 1899. Thomas jumped ship. After Elizabeth had delivered the children to their father the two made their way to the local church to be married. However, the priest had a problem with Thomas as he had no papers to prove who he was, so they went to where Elizabeth was going to be a teacher at Wagga Wagga and were married in the church there.

Thomas had a bit saved from all his years at sea and they purchased a little piece of land near the school where they were staying while Thomas built them a house of their own. Elizabeth taught at the school in Mudgee and the little cottage that came with the teacher’s position was small, yet there was plenty of room for the two of them.

Thomas built a four-bedroom house with an outside toilet. A front verandah helped when the weather warmed up. They were very happy and in April 1901 my aunty Laura (Aurora) was born. Thomas and Elizabeth went on to have nine children in total with one set of twins. Seven survived to adulthood and went on to marry and have families of their own.

My aunt told me her mother and father always had hugs and smiles for everyone. Thomas would have the older children help out on the farm and he would always try to make it fun.

I believe it would have been a hard life, however, very simple compared to today’s standards. I remember Aunty Laura saying her mum would teach people to read and write in the front room of the house for extra income, but when her beloved Thomas died aged 56, she got a teaching position in Wagga Wagga, which had an attached house. She and the two children who still lived at home went to stay there.

Elizabeth died four years later at the age of 49. It was a month after her youngest daughter, Mabel, married. She was buried with Thomas in the Mudgee cemetery.

I have always been proud of my mixed heritage and when I was younger and out in the sun I would tan quite dark which, with my auburn hair, would have people looking.

Do you have a family tale to share? What do you know about your family heritage?

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