Thomas was the son of a Penzance-based mason called John Rowe and his wife Sarah. Although born for some reason in Devonport, Devon [Plymouth] in early 1848, he spent his infancy in Penzance where he was baptised in Madron, Penzance Chapelry [later St Mary’s Church] at the age of 2.
Thomas’s family moved away before spring 1859 to Lower Solva, Whitchurch, Pembrokeshire in South Wales with his parents, brothers and sisters. Later baby niece Annie joined the household when Thomas was 11. However by the time he was 14 the whole family is likely to have been back in Penzance when his oldest sister Elizabeth, baby Annie’s mother, married the baby’s father there in 1862.
Soon after that Thomas lost three key females in his life. Firstly at around about that time his mother Sarah died. Secondly on 30 July 1864 his second sister Catharine got married before moving away to Portsea, Hampshire, for a couple of years then on to south Wales. Eldest sister Elizabeth also left Penzance, in 1866, vanishing from his life. However his father remarried that December.
Thomas married Phillis Harry Wright on 27 April 1968 at the Paul Parish Church (pictured at top). His bride Phillis was a Mousehole girl, born 8 miles from Land’s End in Cornwall, whose fisherman father and his family lived in Mousehole, Post Office Square. John had his own nets and fished on the Nile fishing boat.
Although their first child, Thomas Henry, was born at the end of 1869 in Mousehole, there are registration records of a birth and infant death of a child also called Thomas Henry Rowe in their area in 1868-1869 so it may be that he was actually their second child.
The family were living in Belgrave Terrace, Penzance, in April 1871, but by 30 September 1873 they had moved to nearby 6 Alma Place, Penzance. That was the date of the baptism of their next child, daughter Sarah Helena who had been had been born c1872 followed by A Maria c1873. Their final known child, John Wright Rowe was born on 13 December 1876 in Penzance and baptised the following October in Penzance St Mary’s.
That was the last record I can find of their father Thomas’s location. Although the family were still in Alma Terrace on 3 April 1881 for the census, he was away from home on that date and Phillis is recorded as a mason’s wife, so that would suggest he’s still alive. It looks like that day young Thomas (11) and Sarah (9) went down the hill to visit their grandparents John and Cecilia Rowe as they are recorded at their house too!
Ten years later Phillis was working as a launderess and the family had moved up the hill within Penzance to Caldwells Road. Living at home with her were 18-year-old Maria who is working as a tailoress and 16-year-old John who was an errand boy.
In 1900 Sarah Helena married in Paul Church, just up the hill from her mother’s childhood home. She had been living in a tiny place called Trungle immediately next to Paul village. Her groom was Harry Burgess, a salesman and later an insurance agent, who’d been born in Sherborne, Dorset.
Strangely on the 2 April 1901, the 7 Leskinnick Terrace [Penzance] census return identifies Sarah H Rowe for the census as living with Phillis, describing Sarah as a single 29-year-old dressmaker. I think that perhaps the enumerator had incorrectly recorded Sarah by assuming that because she was at home with her mother she was unmarried.
[Update: In January 2020 a descendent of John and Phillis’ contacted me to let me know that Thomas Henry had travelled to South Africa where he died in April 1901 – the power of blogging! 🙂 ]
Sarah and Harry had four children together. Phyllis Frances (26 April 1903), a child who was possibly born c 1905 but died before 1911, Marie Doreen in summer 1907 and Dorothy Constance born before 2 February 1910, all in Penzance. The family were living at a different address in Penzance for each of these baptisms. Curiously Phyllis’ baptism was non-conformist whereas everything else in their lives was CoE.
In 1902 her son John Wright Rowe married Emma Payne, who’d grown up on a small island in the Isles of Scilly, her story will follow. They had their children Doreen in 1903 and George in 1908, both registered in the Penzance area, but seemed to spend some time apart at one point.
In 1911 Phillis was living with Harry and Sarah Burgess and their three daughters in Dominic Street, Penzance, and this was the first time I’d see her described as a widow.
Phillis died in 1937 in the Penzance area. Sarah and her daughter Phyllis Frances were still in Penzance in 1939.
Text and photographs © Lynne Black, 22 February 2016
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/