52 Weeks – Strong Women

Gravestone of Charlotte Blaker

The theme this week is Strong Women, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day.

To me, a strong woman is someone who shows grit and strength of character in the face of adversity. Someone who just keeps on keeping on. These are the sort of characteristics that are hard to tell over centuries based only official records. Those women I  knew personally who were strong I can’t describe here.  It is too personal to me and my relationship with them.

However, when I am working on my family tree there are women where I read through the record who I think “How did you manage that? That sounds terribly hard!” Those are the situations I shall describe here. I may even be able to find some names that go with the situations!


Before the days of modern medical practices, vaccines and antibiotics the death rate for infants was very high. There is family after family in my tree where multiple children die at just a few years old.

My 3x G grandmother Charlotte Eccott Blaker (1803-1877) had 15 children, 8 of whom died as infants.

Large Family

My Mum had a saying that “You lost a tooth for every child that you had”  While, luckily, this is no longer the case with modern nutrition it is a saying that showed how hard it was on a woman’s body having child after child.

There were some physically strong women in my family. Charlotte Eccott Blaker, that I mentioned previously had 15 children and lived to the age of 74. Agnes Mary Griggs Newall (1858-1943), the wife of my 2xG Uncle,  had 8 children and lived until she was 83.


Many women were widowed relatively early leaving them bringing up a young family. I see them year after the in the census eking out a living as boarding house owners or laundresses.  Hard physical work and low pay, but keeping a roof over the family’s head.


In the 1800’s transportation to Australia was a common punishment for a range of crimes. In 1839, my 19 year old  4x G Uncle Emanuel Cook was transported to Australia for burglary.  He served his sentence, married, had children and died there at the age of 59. He may have been a bad un’ but his mother, Elizabeth Abbott Cook my 4-G grandmother and his sisters never saw him again


Around the turn on the C19 emigration to America, Canada and Australia was at its height. The majority of the families in my tree at that time have at least one member that tried their luck in the ‘Land of Opportunity’. In today’s time of instant communication, it is hard to imagine what it was like to wave your family off and then not hear from them again for weeks. Maybe only seeing them every 10 years or so. That must have been a bereavement in itself.


Women’s stories are harder to track down than men’s. Their names are lost and their achievements are less likely to be recorded. It is a source of frustration to me that I can only track my direct female line back to my 4x G Grandmother in Freystrop, Wales.

My life is so much easier my life is than my ancestors’ lives were. I have experinced better healthcare, fewer deaths and less physical labour. I count myself lucky that I have not needed to be as strong as many of them.



Ancestor Story – William Blaker 1805 -1874

William Blaker, my 3x G Grandfather,  was born in 1805 in Southampton, Hampshire. The Napoleonic Wars started in 1803 and the town was prospering as a consequence of the soldiers passing through the port. New dockyards were built along the river Itchen in the first half on the 19C  and William trained as a shipwright, a trade that required an apprenticeship of seven years.

The Shipwright

Shipwrights built the external structure of ships and most of the internal fittings. They were also responsible for repairs when the ships returned to port.

The main tools of the working shipwright were

  • the adze, to trim the timber
  • the auger to bore holes in timber and planks. Wooden treenails were driven into these to join them together.
  • A large hammer called a mall, to drive treenails in.
  • Two-man cross-cut saws and single handsaws. Good sawing meant less work with the adze.
  • Heavy axes and hatchets for hewing
  • Hacksaws and cold chisels to cut bolts to length.

Iron nails were used to fasten the deck planks. Up until the mid-late 19C ships were built of oak, but as the century wore on ships began to be made of steel and the skills of the shipwright needed to expand.

The Blaker Family

William married Charlotte Eccott on March 17 1831 when he was 26 and she was 28.

They had 15 children together, but only 7  survived to adulthood.

Name Degree of Kinship Born Died
James Blaker Son abt 1832 1901
William Henry Blaker Son 1833 1835
George William Blaker Son 1835 1903
Emily Mary Blaker Daughter 1837 1881
Charlotte Elizabeth Blaker Daughter 27 Sep 1838 1909
Eliza Ann Blaker Daughter abt 1840  aft 1860
Fanny Escott Blaker Daughter abt 1842 1917
Eleanor Blaker Daughter September 1842 1842
Matilda Jane Blaker Daughter 1843 1844
Amelia Blaker Daughter abt 1845 1851
Maurice Blaker Son August 1846 1846
Kate Blaker Daughter January 1848 1848
Harry Edward Blaker Son 1849 1849
Alice Clara Blaker Daughter July 1850  aft 1881
Henry Blaker Son April 1852 1852

Census Entries


In 1841 the family were living in Bevois Street in the Chapel area of Southampton (the census return did not record the house number). The houses were built in 1830 so were quite new. A map of the time,  shows the houses have gardens. His eldest son James was 9, George was 5, Emily was 4, Charlotte was 2 and the youngest Eliza was 1. They had already lost a son, William (1833 – 1835). There was also 15 year old Elizabeth Blake living with them as a female servant.


By 1851 the family had moved to the Northam area of the town and were living at 67 Northam Road. His sons James (19) and George (15) were both shipwrights apprentices. As they lived at home it is a reasonable assumption that William was their apprentice master. Apprentice masters got the majority of the wages of the apprentice and this enhanced the family income. The family group at this time also included Emily Mary (14). Charlotte (12), Ann Eliza (or Eliza Ann!) (11), Fanny (9),  Amelia (6) and Clara (8 mo).

5 other children had been born and died in the intervening 10 years, Eleanor, Matilda Jane, Maurice, Kate and Harry Edward.  Amelia would die later that year.

Between 1842 and 1849 William and Charlotte lost 6 of their children. There were waves of cholera epidemics in Southampton at this time and some of these children may have succumbed in those.


By 1861 the family had moved closer to the docks at 133 Northam Road. Although this part of the town has largely been rebuilt since then and house numbers are hard to identify, we can tell from the census that the family was living near Union Street, as this was the preceding page in the census. The only part of this streetscape left in modern times is the Prince of Wales pub. I expect that my GGG Grandfather drank here!

A map of the area in 1870 can be found on the Southampton City Council site.

It can be seen from the map that they lived close to the Linseed Mills and Artificial Manure works, the Soap and Candle Works, and the Northam Iron works which was next to the actual dockyard, and the river. The smell around there must have been quite dreadful!

The children living at home in 1861 were George (26) who was now a trained shipwright, Charlotte (22) and Fanny (19) – both working as dressmakers, and Alice (11). Also living with them is Charlotte’s 3-year-old daughter Amelia J Blaker, born in Lambeth, Surrey.  Charlotte had married Henry Greatourex in January 1860 but it appears was neither living with him, nor had taken his name at this point.

William and Charlotte had also lost another child, Henry, who was born and died in 1852.


In 1871 I can find no record of William Blaker’s family, although there are records for some of the married children.

William died on the 15th November 1874 aged 70. He is buried in the Old Southampton Churchyard. His wife Charlotte and son George William were later buried with him.