Trying to discover James’ parents
My Great Grandfather, Louis James Lyle Coventry, was the son of Priscilla Bourne and James Henry Coventry. Despite nearly two decades of sporadic research I have still to conclusively establish James’ family line.
A significant amount of circumstantial evidence suggests that he was probably a grand-son of William Coventry – a convict who arrived from Ireland in 1802 – and Mary Ann Martin – daughter of First and Second Fleet convicts Stephen Martin and Hannah Peeling.
William and Mary Ann had two sons and two daughters. For many years I believed that James Henry was mostly likely the son of their eldest son William James. However, last year I finally came across a report of William James’ death that listed his children – and James Henry was not amongst them!
Given the other circumstantial evidence that suggests that James Henry is connected to this family, it seems that his father was probably the other son, John Francis Coventry. Unfortunately it has been very difficult to discover much about John and even more difficult to learn anything about his wife, Rachel Ward. Their children have also proven difficult to trace.
So, for the time being, James Henry’s parentage remains unclear. According to his death certificate, James was born about 1848 in the Horton District which covered the area west of Burnie. William and Ann Coventry were living in the district, at Muddy Creek, Forest, Circular Head. John and Rachel also lived in the district at the time.
Marriage to Priscilla
The first record I have relating clearly to my Great Great Grandfather is his certificate of marriage to Priscilla Bourne. Priscilla was the daughter of assisted emigrants from Wales who had sailed aboard the Chatham in 1855 and taken up residence by the Mersey River. Priscilla’s father, Thomas Bourne, worked in the local coal mines for a time. On 17 June 1867 James and Priscilla married at the home of James Girdlestone at Tarleton. James described himself as a 21 year old labourer; Priscilla a 17 year old house servant.
It seems likely that the couple married in some haste (perhaps prompting James to inflate his age) as their first child, Annie Eliza, was born the following January. In May 1870 another daughter, Amelia, was born but sadly she only survived four weeks. A third daughter, Priscilla Elizabeth, was born in 1871, followed by Olia in 1873 and Alice a year later. Louisa’s birth was registered at Port Sorell in 1876 and Mary Ann was born in 1880. After seven daughters, finally a son arrived in April 1884; christened William Henry Thomas, but known as Harry. Two years later another daughter, Victoria Belinda (known as Linda), then my Great Grandfather Louis James Lyle in 1889. The youngest child, John Bourn (Jack) was born in October 1894.
Interestingly James appears to have adopted his middle name ‘Henry’ some time in the mid 1880s as it first appears in surviving records on the birth certificates of his three youngest children.
Sadly, Priscilla died in October 1899, of typhoidal influenza, just ten days after her youngest child turned five. No doubt the older daughters who were not already married played an important role in bringing up the younger children, including my Great Grandfather.
Mining and road works
Various newspaper articles and business directories provide clues to other aspects of James’ life — where he lived and how he worked. In the February before James and Priscilla married there is an entry in the annual ‘Reports of Crime’ indicating that a white counterpane and blanket were stolen from the clothesline on his property at Tarleton. A local history book also tells us that James mined at Ballahoo in the 1870s, working with William Riley, a pioneer in the coal mining industry in the district. In 1880, James is listed as a shareholder in the Barrington Copper Mining Company.
By the mid 1880s there are references to James Coventry attending meetings of the Latrobe Road Trust and receiving payment for road work completed under contract. It seems very likely that this is the same James Henry Coventry who was contracted to work on the road from Waratah to Corinna in the state’s west in 1891. This was shortly after his wife had died and James is not listed in the directories for Latrobe in the few years that followed, although he was in Latrobe in July 1891 when his daughter Priscilla married Leslie Biggins.
In the years from 1896 to 1904 the local Directory lists James Coventry and Misses A and L Coventry, dressmakers (presumably Alice and Louisa) at Latrobe.
In 1900 Latrobe was struck by a fever which claimed the lives of a number of its residents. At the age of 19, Mary Ann succumbed to the illness.
The North West Post – 24 April 1900
The funeral of the late Miss Mary Anne Coventry (writes our Latrobe correspondent) took place on Sunday afternoon. A lengthy cortege was headed by Sunday school children. Arriving at the Wesleyan burying ground, the children were formed in lines through which the coffin was taken by the pall-bearers. The Rev H. Worrall performed the last sad rites at the grave, and referred, in a short address, to the many sterling qualities of the deceased young lady. At the conclusion, the large assemblage joined in singing, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” Numerous wreaths and other floral devices were received from sympathising friends. The morturary arrangements were conducted by Mr H Biggins. At the evening service of the Wesleyan Church, the rev gentleman made feeling reference to the sad loss sustained by the death of Miss Coventry and Miss Mitchell, both of whom had been members of the church choir. Appropriate hymns were sung during the service, and while the offertory was being taken up, Miss Bond played on the organ, “He wipes the tear.” The pulpit and communion rails were draped in black and white, and a wreath sent from Sassafras was hung on the front of the pulpit.
The third death from fever which occurred at Latrobe last week … Mr James Bonney, aged 26 years … It is gratifying to be able to report that the only other typhoid patient in the town — a little girl in the Coventry family [presumably Victoria]— is progressing well towards recovery.
Tragedy struck again in May 1904 when James’ youngest son, John Bourn, then only nine years old, died after an illness lasting three weeks. The North West Post reported that there was a large attendance at the boy’s funeral with brethren of the Perseverance Tent, and the boys of the juvenile Tent (of which John was a member) joining in the procession.
Further out West
Perhaps this tragedy prompted James to leave Latrobe again because in 1905 and 1906 the only James Coventry I can find in the north west of the state is occupying a house in Smithton. William Coventry, of Waratah, is also listed as owning a house in nearby Ritchie street, and William’s daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is listed as occupying the cottage in Runcorn Street belonging to her husband, Thomas Coventry. Thomas was also a miner.
In 1907 in news from Smithton, the North West Advocate… reported that ‘The friends of Mr James Coventry, who is well-known on the North-West Coast, will regret to hear that he has been ordered by his medical adviser to Launceston as soon as possible to undergo an operation for cancer on the inside of the lip.’
Whether he stayed in Launceston after his treatment or returned later is not clear, but given his background it seems likely that James was the ‘Mr Coventry’ referred to in a newspaper article in March 1912. The Launceston based Examiner reported that a ‘Mr Coventry’ had been appointed foreman of the work underway to lay down tram lines for the Trevallyn extension.
In 1914 James Henry Coventry, a ‘road overseer’, appears on the electoral roll living at 153 York Street in Launceston. A second entry lists him at South Street in North Launceston. Both entries have him living with Margaret May Coventry. In 1919 this couple was living in Wellington Street, Launceston. While James’ death certificate indicates he married a second time when he was 67 years old (ie, about 1914) no formal registration has been found.
Some years ago another researcher contacted me hoping to find out some more about the James Coventry who lived with her ancestor, Margaret Forward (nee Chessworth). While the documentary evidence is slim, it does seem that Margaret may have been living in the north west, in the Burnie area, around 1911, so it is easy to speculate that James and Margaret may have met while he was living at Smithton and then moved together to Launceston.
Margaret died in 1919 and James remained at Wellington Street until at least 1922.
Sometime afterwards James returned to Latrobe where he died at his son’s residence in Gilbert Street, on 30 July 1927. His death certificate gives his occupation as ‘retired contractor’ and indicates that he died from ‘chronic myocarditis syndrome’ or heart disease.
The Advocate – 1 August 1927
The death took place at his son’s residence on Saturday night of Mr J. Coventry. Mr Coventry had been in indifferent health for some years. He was about as usual on Saturday, and also on Saturday evening. He complained of feeling unwell about 10pm, and soon after was found by his son in a sinking condition. Medical aid was summoned, but he passed away. His age was 79 years, and he had resided here for a considerable time. He was one of the very old identities, having reared his family in the district. Mr Harry Coventry, captain of the Latrobe Football Club, and Mr Lew [sic] Coventry, bandmaster of the Latrobe Federal band, are sons. There are also several daughters.
The funeral, on the 1st of July, was attended by many people from the town. The hearse was preceded by the Latrobe Federal Band, with muffled drums. Reverend W T Johns conducted a short service at the graveside. The chief mourner’s were James’ sons Harry and Lou, his brother-in-law Mr H Girdlestone and his grandson, Leigh Coventry.
If you can fill in any little gaps that might help to unravel the mystery of James’ parentage or tell us a little more about his life I would love to hear from you – please send me an email.
[Updated 5 August 2012]