Exactly five years ago, on 9 January 2018, I published my first blog for the #52 Ancestors Challenge. It was entitled John Flett you’re to blame! Now it’s time for an update.
If you don’t want to read the earlier blog here’s a brief summary: great great-uncle John Flett (born 1862) immigrated to Australia from Orkney in the 1880s, after a while the letters stopped coming and he was never heard of again. Over the years I’ve done some work to see if I could find out what happened to him but it was only in 2022, thanks to an Australian 3rd cousin on a different line, that his fate was discovered.
So what did happen to him?
It’s rather prosaic really. On 8 May 1905, he married Evangeline Rogers at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Perth, Western Australia. They were both said to be 41 (he was actually nearer 43); he was a tailor and she was a tailoress.1Marriages Australia. Perth, Western Australia. 8 May 1905. FLETT, John & ROGERS, Evangeline. Reg no 1402 Total news – none of the family in Orkney knew he was married at all.
He worked as a tailor in the Perth area and had his own shop. He outlived his wife by over seven years and died on 10 December 1944 at 99 Coogee Street, Mount Pleasant, Perth.2 The Western Australian. 11 December 1944, Family Notices. p 1. FLETT, John. https://trove.nla.gov.au : accessed 22 March 2022. Again completely new information for us. In one of those quirks of fate, his sister Ann, my great-grandmother, had died only 11 months earlier, Mary Jane, the other sister, died in 1954, again unaware of what had happened to her brother. John is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth.
There’s a lot of come to terms with here. Why did John stop writing, why did he not tell the family in Orkney that he was married? My grandfather, John Ross, planned to emigrate to join his uncle and had even made a wooden trunk for his belongings. He was born in 1889 so, factoring in time for him to leave school and complete his joinery apprenticeship, it seems likely that there was some correspondence between Orkney and Australia after John and Evangeline married in 1905.
Losing addresses in a house move is not a plausible explanation: there were three addresses (two sisters and a father); people were not that hard to find in Orkney anyway.
“Man may make his own destiny” – a hint of irony there?
Did he want to forget his humble origins as the motherless son of a lowly farm servant? It’s noteworthy that in the 1905 marriage registration he said his father’s occupation gamekeeper, still a manual occupation but perhaps with something of the romance or glamour of a Highland estate? Would the arrival of his young nephew undermine a careful fabrication? Or did his wife put her foot down?
Perhaps that is rather unkind, who can say, yet to cut off all communication with his two sisters in Orkney (and presumably his father who died in 1919), seems rather drastic. By all accounts, they were close, possibly due to the loss of their mother at a young age. At least Mary Jane, the older sister, had married rather well and would certainly not have been an embarrassment to John even if Ann, my great grandmother, had only married a shepherd turned crofter.
From his will, I know that John Flett left everything to the Methodist Homes of Children Western Australia Conference.3Testamentary Records. Australia. January 1945. FLETT, John. Will, inventory & grant of probate. Supreme Court of Western Australia. AU WA S34- cons3403 1945/0073. https://archive.sro.wa.gov.au : accessed 23 March 2022. My fleeting hope that at the end he might have remembered the Orkney families was dashed!
An answer that is not an answer
Why did the contact stop? We’ll never know and that not knowing is vaguely troubling. There is part of me that would rather still be thinking of poor John Flett lying in an unnamed grave, far from family.
I am very grateful to Jan for her sterling work on his case.