Thursday, 2 August 2012

I hope it's not hereditary!

Frederick A Pearson,
my great great grandfather

My Gren had told us that her grandfather drowned in Geelong, Victoria at a young age, that her grandmother had died a few years later and the children (including her mother) were then brought up by their grandfather.

Frederick Augustus PEARSON (1848-1884) did drown but in interesting circumstances, all documented in Trove, in a number of different papers, Australia-wide.
In summary: On Thursday morning [30 Oct 1884] the body of Mr F. A. Pearson, professor of music, was found in the bay in 10 foot of water, face downwards, with the hands clasped.
It came to light that for some time past he had been in the habit of taking large doses of ammonia, sal volatile, and other chemical stimulants, and had been cautioned some months since as to the probable bad effects the use of such would have on the brain.

Frederick was only 36 years old and left his wife Emma Laura nee ROWDEN (1853-1889) and five children: Florence May (my great grandmother) aged nine and a half years, Frederick Charles Rowden aged eight years, Leslie Montague aged six years, Emma Laura aged four and a half years and Mervyn Theodore aged 11 months. Frederick was a professor of music, had composed several musical pieces, and had organised a brass and string band of 20 members – what a waste of a life.
His wife died less than five years later and her father, Frederick Augustus ROWDEN (1826-1919) then raised the children and lived to the amazing age of 93 years.

Frederick's widow, Emma Laura nee Rowden with
my great grandmother Florence May Pearson and her
little brother, Leslie Montague Pearson
What Gren hadn’t talked about, and probably didn’t know about, were the circumstances of her great grandmother’s death. Eliza MASON (1824-1869) was the wife of Charles Kelvey PEARSON (c1827-1909). Her death, and inquest, was also tragically documented in Trove, also in a number of different papers.
In summary: The inquest on the body of Mrs C. K. Pearson, who died on Wednesday afternoon (1 July 1869) from the effects of poison she had taken, disclosed some very painful circumstances, showing that she took the poison wilfully. The evidence was to the effect that Mrs Pearson, who is forty-five years of age, has had 14 children, 10 of whom are still alive. Being now just on the turn of life, she has for some time been subject to periodical fits of despondency, and even temporary madness, and it appears that while suffering from one of these fits, she took the drugs. While her husband was at work she claimed to have taken strychnine, which her husband had in a secret drawer in the bedroom [he says he was unaware that she knew of its existence – although why he would have it!?]. Her little son ran to get his father, who administered emetics, and then sent for the doctor. But Mrs Pearson had also taken some liniment composed principally of belladonna, chloroform, and ammonia. She died soon afterwards.
The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased committed suicide by taking poison while in a state of temporary insanity.

Eliza was only 45 and left 10 surviving children between the ages of three and 21. Her husband remarried five years later and had four more children. Poor lady, she had had 14 pregnancies, in Avoca in country Victoria, by the age of 45 and her ‘insanity’ was blamed on menopause!

Scary similarities between the two! Hope it’s not hereditary – and this one is on my Dad’s side.


  1. Seems we are related through Charles Kelvey Pearson, Eliza's husband. His 2nd wife Catherine was my great, great grandmother on my mother's side of the family. It seems the family continued to have lots of contraversy after the suicide of Eliza. Some of their children were born in England and then the remainder out here in Australia. They came to Ballarat to the gold fields before moving to Geelong near Melbourne Victoria. So when Charles married Catherine they had 4 children. Being a staunch Christian woman she hated anything to bring disgrace on the family. This wreaked havoc in her family until her death. Her oldest son was my great grandfather. His oldest child my grandmother. Seems we are cousins.

    1. Would love to talk more especially as it seems you are in Sydney too.
      Please email me at jackievb (at) optusnet (dot) com (dot) au.

    2. I live in the Penrith area. I have just started the search for the family over the past twelve months. My mum doesn't know much about her family, her mother passed away from cancer when the kids were young and her dad never spoke of her. The uncle always answered the questions with a resolute, "you don't want to know the family". Anyway, I'm off to Perth for at least a month next Monday, for the arrival of my first grandbaby. I will get in contact with you on my return.