Monday, 26 March 2018

#52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Week 12: 'Misfortune'

Week 12 Prompt: 'Misfortune'

The one person who appeared to have bad luck follow him during his life that immediately springs to my mind was Rees Coventry REES. 
Rees was born 11 March 1842 in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, Wales, United Kingdom. His parents were Thomas and Mary nee Jones.  On the English 1851 Census, his father is occupied as a Beer House Keeper in Plymouth Street, Glamorgan.

Rees emigrated from England leaving Plymouth on 05 Sep 1863  on board ‘Sir John Lawrence’, a ship of 700 tons with George Ellery as Master.  Rees was 21 years old - no doubt looking for adventure and a different life in a country on the other side of the world.  He arrived in Adelaide, South Australia on 14 Dec 1863.

Two years later he has moved to Victoria. Rees is a stone cutter of Melbourne and is married when 32 years old to Eliza WELLS on 21 Feb 1874 in St. John’s Church of England, Belfast (Port Fairy) where Eliza’s family lived.  Eliza was my mother’s mother’s cousin.

Their first child Mary Eleanor was born on 28 May 1875 in Richmond Victoria but sadly died a year later in Dec 1876  in Adelaide, SA.  In the meanwhile, they had their second daughter Alice Adelaide born in Adelaide in June 1876.  They went on to have seven more children.

Rees Coventry Rees was a builder who is first heard of in Adelaide in 1876. Trove Newspapers have supplied quite a bit of information about Rees and what happened and didn’t happen in his building career. 

He was in court for leaving his employment on 16 Jun in Adelaide, SA. Rees Coventry Rees, Stonecutter, was charged on the information of Messrs. Brown and Thompson, with leaving his hired service without lawful excuse. He was ordered to return to work.  Apparently attending a strike which he was involved in.  NB: This is in the same month that his second daughter is born.

In 1877 he put in a tender of £451 to the Govt Architect’s Dept. to build a fence wall at the North Airing Court, Parkside Lunatic Asylum, (for the Government Architect’s Department).  He missed out - another tender beat him by 16 Pounds. 

A year later Rees advertised for two bricklayers to meet with him between 6 and 7pm at his business address in Page Street, off Grote Street, near Victoria Square, Adelaide. 
He must have got his bricklayers and finished the build as he advertised For Sale or To Let, a First class Three room COTTAGE, with passage; half-hour’s walk from King William Street, in West Adelaide.
Next, he placed a notice for Masons – Wallers and Cutters; Carpenters (Stair Hand) and Laborers. Society men preferred.

August 1878 - Another residence built and advertised -  for the letting of a three-roomed house, with passage, about a mile from town, on Henley Beach Road.

Three more sons are born in Adelaide  - Thomas Jacob in 1878, Henry Sidney in the suburb of Thebarton in 1879 and Herbert Watkin in 1881.

His advertising now changed to wanting a Smart Carpenter for putting up Iron Sheds.

Then there is an Auction sale advertised for Mr. R. C. Rees as occupant and owner of a substantially built Cottage of three rooms and passage, being at Allotment 89, corner of Jervois Street and Carlton Parade (western Adelaide suburb - Torrensville).

Next Rees and Morrison, Marble and Slate Merchants, Wakefield Street, Adelaide were dissolving their partnership by mutual consent, as Rees was leaving the business through ill health.  (Specifics unknown)

Rees uses Morrison’s address - Morrison & Co., Marble Works, Wakefield Street to sell: 'a First-class Cottage, with a passage, in the quick rising suburb, New Thebarton (west of Adelaide), cheap.'

In October 1879, bad luck struck again when Rees missed out on another contract, this time for the erection of a school and teacher’s residence at Dry Creek (a northern suburb of Adelaide). 

At last, he had a win when he was the lowest tender out of six for a Government Tender of the Terowie Passenger Station. Interestingly the notice also mentions R.C. Rees Architect-in-Chief. - he seems to now be named as the Architect.  Terowie is a small town in the mid-north of South Australia located 220 kms north of Adelaide.
Railway buildings at Terowie 2016

Following on from this job he does more in the country areas. 
He advertised for a smart Working Foreman (Carpenter) for the country. He gives his address as New Thebarton or still (care of ) Morrison & Co., Wakefield Street.

In early January 1880 he advertised for three carpenters, and ironworker that can do Plain Painting, for the country.  

Rees missed out on three  Government contracts for the erection of a post-office and telegraph station at Port Pirie, Ororoo [sic] and Mallala (country towns north of Adelaide) as well as for the erection of a public school and teacher’s residence at Stockwell (a small town north of Adelaide), and a Police Station at Norwood (a suburb to the east of Adelaide).  However, he was eventually the lowest tender for a Post and Telegraph office at Yongala (a northern township) in 1880.
This may have taken up much of his time as we only hear about him next in reference to being the contractor for fencing in Victoria Square – “This long-pending, much-debated work has been at long last begun, the contractor (Mr. R.C. Rees) having this morning commenced to place the granite blocks into position.”

1881: 7th Sept - Extract from South Australian Police Gazette - Missing Persons.  Information is requested as to the whereabouts of Rees Coventry Rees, a builder, who left his home, at Eastwood, on the 30th ultimo, and has not since been heard of.  
Description - 39 years of age, 5 feet 5 inches high, fair complexion, light brown hair, moustache and goatee, blue eyes, first joint of left forefinger missing; wore black cloth coat, black and white plaid trousers and waistcoat, and brown hard felt hat. 
He isn’t missing for too long though as on Friday 20th Jul 1883 it is announced that he won a big contract to build the North Adelaide Institute at a price of about 3,500 pounds. And then on 27th July 1883 from the Architect-in Chief’s Department that the “Building Post-Office, Telegraph Station, and Institute, and also including lecture hall, at North Adelaide, R.C. Rees, £6,942.”

1883: 22 Aug - In the Adelaide Police Court Rees Coventry Rees and James Cooney were each fined 20s and costs for keeping an unregistered dog. 

1884: Rees builds North Adelaide Institute.  This (now) heritage listed building was opened in 1884. The Nth Adelaide Institute was built on the original ‘High Street’ it now (2010) houses the City of Adelaide Tyne St Library and North Adelaide Community Centre.

The North Adelaide Institute built by Rees Coventry Rees. Photo taken 2016

In November 1884 the Corporation of Thebarton advertised that voting for the Torrens Ward could be undertaken ‘In Mr. R.C. Ree’s Cottage, near Post Office, Mile-End.’
The Institute build must have been more expensive than Rees thought as his business is up for Insolvency on 07 August 1885 (Rees Coventry Rees, Mile-End Builder)

In September 1885 we read a report of the Police Courts before W. Bundey (and others) that ‘James Morrisson (his former partner) was charged with threatening to blow out the brains of R.C. Rees and inflicted sundry other injuries upon him on September 22.'  Both witnesses information were dismissed, and each party was to pay 5s costs.  NB: I wonder if this threat is to do with the insolvency problem?

In 1886 under instructions of the Mortgagees, an advert was placed to sell by auction Lot 1. ‘New six-roomed house at Mile End, on Henley Beach Road, with stabling, coachhouse, and Man’s Room, and known as belonging to Mr. R.C. Rees.’

The family may have temporarily moved back to Victoria to family in 1886 as Rees’ next son Victor Eric Hawthorn is born in Hawthorn, Victoria in 1886.  
But they then moved to Broken Hill, NSW sometime from 1886 to  1889.  

A huge silver-lead-zinc ore body was discovered at Broken Hill in 1883 and by 1886 a township was developing rapidly, bringing many opportunities in the building industry.

Photo of Rees and Eliza REES taken in Broken Hill (in my possession)

Son Francis Sidney Willyama is born in Mar 1889 in Broken Hill.

Rees as an architect called for tenders for making shop fittings for Murton and Buck.  Plans to be viewed at his office in Argent Chambers.

By 1890 Rees had built up his finances somewhat, sufficient to propose building a hotel.  February 1890 Rees applied to the licensing magistrate in Broken Hill for a conditional license for a hotel which he proposed to build at Mulga Hill. The hotel was to consist of stone and brick and cost £1100. The licensing magistrate granted the application on the condition that the building was strictly in accordance with the plans and specifications.
In January 1891 the electors of Wills Ward in Broken Hill were invited to hear an address by John M’Lennan Sutherland at Mr. R.C.Rees’ Residence (part of the future Tydvil Hotel).
On 05 Feb 1891, ’The Merthyr Tydvil Arms' was established at 318 Oxide Street, Broken Hill with Rees Coventry Rees as the Licensee.  NB: The hotel still stands in Oxide Street Broken Hill (2011). 

Rees had named the hotel after his birth town.  Merthyr Tydvil is a town in Wales, 37 kms. north of Cardiff, and was once the largest town in Wales. According to legend, the town is named after St Tydfil, who was slain at Merthyr by pagans around 480; the place was subsequently named Merthyr Tydfil in her honour.

Photo taken in 2016 of bar in Tydvil Hotel, Broken Hill
Tydvil Hotel Broken Hill in 2016

Not sure what would have brought on the following advertisement when on the 23
rd February 1891, tenders were called for the purchase of the Tydvil Hotel, Oxide Street, comprising 13 rooms, stables, &c.; land 83 x 132. Stock, furniture, licence, &c. at valuation. Alternatively, tenders were for Goodwill of 5 year’s lease and weekly rental of said hotel, with stock, licence, furniture, &c., at valuation.  Was the Hotel not bringing in enough money or did Rees have a change of heart about following in his father’s footsteps?

In June 1891 it was still being referred to as Rees Tydvil Hotel, but there was a new Licensee by the name of William Cole listed in 1892. 

In Feb 1892: Eliza gave birth to a little girl Violet May, but sadly Eliza died aged 37, after childbirth. About a month later little baby Violet died also, in March 1892.  Violet was not a family name but was my grandmother’s name. She had been born in 1879 and I like to think that this little one was named after her.
When Eliza died friends were invited to attend her funeral which left their residence, Thomas Street, Broken Hill, for interment in the New Cemetery.

Rees was now a widower left to bring up his family of five sons ranging down in age from 14 to 3 years old and one daughter, Alice who is about 16 years old. 

Four years later in 1896, a valuable freehold property was advertised for sale. In Oxide Street, close to Tydvil Hotel and under instructions from R.C. Rees, a good stoneshop, with two rooms attached in a splendid position that must increase in value. He then heads off to WA looking for work. He is now an unemployed architect.  He leaves the family in Broken Hill (? where were they living) with three older sons working and providing for their siblings and the oldest daughter Alice Adelaide (20yo) in charge of the house. He sends money over to them also.  In 1899 Alice married - so what happened - did the children go to live with her and her husband Francis LORD? 

In the 1903 Census, Rees is listed as a Miner in Bulong WA  with his 25 yo son Thomas Jacob.  But three years later n 1906 Thomas has left and  Rees is now alone at Bulong.

In 1918, Rees has returned to Broken Hill and whilst living at  Morgan Street West, he was officially informed that his son, Private F.S.W. Rees of the 10th Battalion had died of his wounds, after previously reporting that he was wounded and missing. 
Francis Sidney Service No: 1974, (Pte) 27th Battalion, 10th Battalion. Served in Egypt & France. Wounded in action twice - 23 Jul 1916 & 03 Mar 1918. Died aged 26, in the First World War and buried at Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension, Bailleul, France.  He left a wife Eliza nee HOSSACK.  Frank was a  cook prior to enlisting on 16 June 1915.

Whether Rees was sick and tired by now or looking to retire - on the 14th January 1920 he placed an advertisement for the Auction Sale in the Premises, 92 Morgan Street, between Kaolin and Gossan Streets, a good wood and iron shop, with dwelling room attached, an acre of freehold land and all household furniture and effects – everything. It is unknown where he would have moved to live, but he ended up back in Victoria by the end of the year. 

Rees never married again and died aged 78 on 10 Nov 1920 in the Alfred Hospital, His death certificate is sad to read. He died of Gastric Carcinoma and Exhaustion.  Rees is listed as an Architect and it says he lived 15 years in WA, 10 years in NSW and 9 years in Victoria, a total of 34 years, although he lived in Australia for 57 years. 
It doesn’t say how long he was treated there, maybe he was seen just that day by the doctor and died later.  It states his parents are Thomas and Eleanor REES of Wales ( Not Alice).  Lived 15 years in West Australia, 10 in South Australia and 9 in Victoria. 

His children are listed according to their ages of death.  Mary Eleanor dead, Alice Adelaide 44, Thomas Jacob 42, Henry Stanley dead, Herbert Watkin 38, Victor Ernest 24, Francis Sydney dead & Violet May dead. It looks like none of them were around at the time or were unaware of his illness and death. 

Rees was buried on at the 12th Nov in a grave at the Brighton Cemetery, Victoria without a headstone - in contrast to all the stones he would have laid as a stone cutter, mason, and builder.

Rees Coventry REES Grave at Brighton Cemetery


  1. My wife Dianne is RCR's great-grand-daughter. Her Grand-father was Herbert.

  2. Thank you for your information Craig. Does your wife Dianne have any further information I can add, or any photos, letters, diaries, etc of the family she would be willling to share please? I would love to be able to fill in more of this part of the tapestry.