From Porthallow to Australia
The Mystery of Josiah White

This article is a sequel to the one that I wrote for the June 2005 edition of the CFHS Journal (the story of Mrs Amy White) and hopefully shows how fascinating family history is, even if, at times, we do not always like what we find.

Most families have skeletons in the cupboard which have been kept under wraps for generations but then, suddenly, a discovery is made whether it be illegitimacy, lunacy or criminality by an interfering family genealogist who stumbles across the truth.

The story of the mysterious Josiah White is possibly one of these. Josiah White was born at Porthallow near St Keverne on 10 February 1846, the son of Edward White (carpenter) and Loveday nee Guy. Josiah was baptised at his parent's house in Porthallow by the Bible Christian minister of the Helston Circuit on 26 February 1846.

He grew up in a family of five children and followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a carpenter.

By the 1861 census, Josiah was the only child living at home with his parents but on 25 May of that year Edward White died after a short illness.

On the 1 December 1865 Josiah White aged 19, carpenter of Porthallow, married Amy Harry at the Wesleyan Methodist Association chapel in Helston. Amy was the daughter of John Harry, carpenter of Roaring Stile, and Amia (nee Richards) was aged 24.

Over the next few years six children were born to Josiah and Amy - Thomas Henry 1867, Alfred John Harry 1869, Josiah James 1871, Arthur 1875 (who died young), Ernest 1876 and Samuel 1878. This is where the apparent mystery begins.

In the 1871 census for Porthallow Amy White is listed as Head of household and married with three children - Alfred John Harry aged 2, Thomas Henry aged 4 and Josiah James aged 3 months.

By 1881 Amy was still at Porthallow with four children living at home - Thomas Henry aged 14, Alfred aged 12, Ernest aged 5 and Samuel aged 3. The fourth son, Josiah James aged 10, was living in Porthallow with his maternal grandmother Amia Harry.

In 1881 Amy White was described as a widow and in 1882 emigrated to USA with her four children. A year later she remarried in the USA to Charles Vogt and had a second family.

Josiah White was not listed on the 1871 Census and neither was he buried at St Keverne between 1871 and the 1881 Census when Amy was styled as a widow. In fact, his death does not appear to have occurred in England but in Australia.

Did he work as a ship's carpenter (which could explain his absence from home on the 1871 Census) and then later jumped ship in Australia?

On 26 September 1874 Josiah White aged 25, a bachelor and a wheelwright was married at St Matthew's Church Broadford, Kilmore District in the Colony of Victoria to Emma Louisa Brucewater.

Josiah's parents are listed as Edward White and Loveday White nee Guy and his birthplace "Cornwall", England.

In Australia Josiah and Emma White produced a large family of possibly nine children - Edward, Emma, Frederick, William, Loveday, Josiah, John, Alice and Henry Claude.

These names are listed on Josiah's death certificate. Josiah White died on 13 December 1924 aged 84 years at King Edward Avenue, Sunshine in the state of Victoria. His occupation was that of a wheelwright and it was stated that he had lived in Australia for 60 years, 20 years in Victoria and 40 years in other states (the other states included New South Wales where at least six of his children were born).

The names of his children and their ages were also listed in birth order ranging from Emma aged 46 to the youngest Claude aged 28. Two children, Edward the eldest child and William (the fourth child) were deceased by 1924. Josiah was buried on 15 December 1924.

This then is the mystery - possibly there may have been two Josiah Whites but no other birth/baptism entry relating to a Josiah in the right period of time in the right area of Cornwall has been found.

There seems to be no burial record for Josiah White in England. There also appears to be no passenger entry for Josiah White on a ship sailing from England to Australia - possibly, as a ship's carpenter and, therefore, a crew member, he would not be on a passenger list.

Could he have decided to stay in Australia and, therefore, jumped ship in order to do so?

Where was Josiah in 1871 when Amy was the Head of the household in Porthallow? Was he way at sea?

Did he and Amy both commit bigamy?

In Amy's case she may have considered herself to be a widow when she remarried in the USA for, without doubt, she believed that Josiah had been lost at sea.

Was it possible for Josiah to have children in England and Australia at the same time?

Both Amy White in Porthallow and Emma White in Australia were having children over a similar period - Amy had three children in the 1870s (Arthur 1875, Ernest 1876 and Samuel 1879) after Josiah had married in Australia (1874) and Emma White had her first three children (William the eldest 1876? Emma 1878 and Frederick 1880).

Children who have fathers at sea can often correlate their birth dates to the period nine months before when he was home on leave - this is certainly true in my father's family when I compare the births of his brothers and sisters with my grandfather's naval record!)

Family history always throws up intrigue, dilemmas (nothing exciting ever happened in our family really means "there are skeletons in the cupboard and I am not going to tell you") and unanswered questions.

Josiah White and his second wife Emma are buried together in Australia (I have a copy of a photograph showing the grave and headstone) while Amy White (later Mrs Vogt) died in 1919 and is buried in the USA. Both Josiah and Amy had their roots in St Keverne parish in the small fishing village of Porthallow. Both emigrated to the "New World" and started second families. Both left behind an interesting family history, even if there are no definite answers to the questions posed in this story. In fact, does the lack of answers really matter?

Cans of worms may be opened but that's family history for you!!!

Terry Moyle