Agnes Green – education pioneer

Margaret Agnes Ann Green (known as Agnes) would have been about 11 when her father was transferred to the Cape Colony from Canada. She was born in Nova Scotia, where her father, William Green, was in the commissariat department of the British Army, and her mother, Margaret Gray, died when she was about 9 or 10. Several of her brothers went on to make names for themselves in southern Africa, but she soon left for New South Wales.

She married William Wilson, presumably at the Cape, when she was about 15 or 16, and went with him to Australia in about 1853 on the Countess of Yarborough. Their first child was born at Sydney early in 1854. They moved to Moruya, about 300 km south of Sydney, soon afterwards, and her husband was storekeeper on the Kiora Estate. He was drowned in the Tuross River in April 1856, leaving her a widow at the age of 20 with two young children, one aged 2 years and the other 8 months.

In 1858, at the age of 22, she married again to Alfred Dawson Francis. Between them they had four children, and went on to have another four, and continued to live at Moruya.

Francis committed suicide in 1864. Agnes was then 28 years old, and had four young children, ranging in age from almost 10 to 18 months, and was pregnant with a fifth (her second child had died five years previously). There was not much chance of opening a school at Moruya, so she moved inland to Queanbeyan, New South Wales, and opened a school there, which later became the Queanbeyan public school. Perhaps it was because it would have been impractical for her to run a school and look after a toddler that she left the youngest, Edith Lilian, with the McLeod family of Bateman’s Bay (also on the south coast, just north of Moruya). Her assistant teacher was a Miss Goote, who later married her brother Alfred.

The new school was recognised as a National School in August 1864, but met with some opposition from local clergy, especially the Anglicans and Presbyterians. who preferred denominational schools. This, coupled with the fact that the school was just across the road from the Methodist Church, may be why she was a Methodist in later years. There were several incidents of harassment, with people prowling in the garden and windows being broken.

When the new baby arrived, she found it difficult to make ends meet, and Captain E.M. Battye, a former military officer turned policeman, persuaded her to leave the youngest child, Louisa, with them. Captain Battye had been stationed in Nova Scotia, and so knew Agnes Francis’s family, and no doubt knew her as she was growing up there (letter from Caroline Brathwaite to her niece Katie Pollock, see Cowley 1996:198). Caroline claimed that Captain Battye was with her grandfather (William Goodall Green) at the Cape Colony, but the dates make this seem unlikely, and it is more likely that they knew each other in Nova Scotia, since the Battyes went to New South Wales in 1847, about the time that the Greens went to the Cape.

It is possible too that Captain Battye was the natural father of Louisa, since Alfred Dawson Francis died 8 months before she was born, and had been living away from the family, in Sydney, for four months before his death.

Agnes Francis sent in her resignation in June 1865, barely a year after starting the school, and after an unsuccessful attempt to take private pupils moved to Sydney, probably before the end of 1865.

The family had not been in Sydney long when her eldest daughter, Caroline Wilson, was sent to stay with her brother Edward Lister Green in New Zealand.

In 1871 Agnes married Walter William McLean Thwaites in Sydney, and had four more children by him. She married him again in Adelaide in 1879, after the birth of their children (his first wife was still alive at the time of their first marriage – see Cowley 1996:82). In 1887 she was back at Queanbeyan, trying to open another school.

According to Bruce McLeod, a relation said she remarried “Napoleon Wilson in 1869, possibly a member of her family”). According to her death certificate, she was born in Nova Scotia, North America, and she had lived 3 years in South Australia, 4 years in Victoria, and 20 years in N.S. Wales. Her first marriage took place in Cape Town, South Africa, when she was 15 years old.

Her three years in South Australia were possibly at the time of her second marriage to Thwaites, though they do not seem to have stayed together long after that.

She was the “Arthur Francis’s mother” who had a letter from “Judge Wiekalet” (probably Gustavus Wicksteed, who married her mother’s sister). This letter, of which handwritten copies circulated among the family in South Africa, contributed to the legend of royal descent. Margaret A.A. Green also received a monthly pension from the Bank of Montreal, of which her grandfather John Gray was founder and first president.

She seems to have had a pretty tough life, and none of her three husbands seem to have been much of a support to her.

There is more about her on our Family Wiki site.

Much of the research on her life was done by Bob Cowley of New South Wales, who wrote a comprehensive (though unpublished) history of the Cowley, Green and related families of Australia. Agnes Green’s son-in-law was Sir William Throsby Bridges, who founded the Australian military college at Duntroon, near where she had opened her pioneer school.

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This post is part of a Carnival of Genealogy on Women’s History. Click the link to read some of the other posts.

Thwaites, Green families in Australia

I’ve just had some correspondence with Emma Hannah, who was married to Roger Thwaites, son of FJ Thwaites, the Australian novelist, who was the grandson of Margaret Agnes Ann Green and Walter Thwaites. This adds something to what we know of the Thwaites side of the family.

Margaret Agnes Ann Green (known as Agnes) and her younger brother Alfred both lived in Australia. We have been in contact with several of Agnes Green’s descendants, from all three of her husbands, some of whom returned to southern Africa in later generations, and some fought on opposite side in the First and Second World Wars.

There is a possibility that at least two of her husbands committed bigamy by marrying her.

We have not managed to make contact with any of Alfred’s descendants though. One of them William Alfred Goodall Esdaile Green lived in South Africa for several years, and changed his name to William d’Este Stuart-Grey. Another, Frederick, died young. A daughter, Henrietta Caroline married William Henry Browne.

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Green – Wilson – Francis – Thwaites

Jenny Marsh writes:

… found this info amongst Glorias letters. “Agnes Thwaites,
admitted to Adelaide Hospital 2/4/1880 of Gawler, 44 yrs married C/E , born
Nova Scotia. Arrived in the colony aboard the Countess of Harborough.”

Every little bit helps, and that’s quite a few bits. At least it gives the name of a ship to look for. Though it may not be the one she went from the Cape Colony on, but perhaps the Countess of Harborough only took her to Adelaide from Sydney.

In looking for that, I found a reference to Alfred John Dawson Francis (her second husband) going insolvent in 1860 in an NSW archives index. He was described as a miner and storeman at Dwyer’s Creek. But the only Dwyer’s Creek I could find was in South Western Victoria, and presumably quite a long way from Moruya.

Any comments on this?

Just click on the COMMENTS at the bottom of this posting.

Green, Francis, Battye, Cowley

A fat book arrived from Bob Cowley in Australia today — “Addendum 1″ to his Soldiers, surveyors and selectors, which he compiled about 10 years ago, to which this was an update.

Quite a lot of it deals with Margaret Agnes Anne Green, and he’s managed to collect a fair bit more on her brother Alfred, who also went to Australia, and on Alfred’s wife Henrietta Goote, including the rather interesting information that she was born in Smyrna, Turkey. He also has death dates for many of Alfred and Henrietta’s children.

Included in the package was a copy of the Canberra Historical Journal for September 2005, which has an article by Bob Cowley himself on Margaret Agnes Anne Green, concentrating on her role as a pioneer educationist in Queanbeyan, “The Queanbeyan teacher who was unlucky in love”. And so she was. Her first husband, William Wilson, drowned in the Tuross River. She next married Alfred John Dawson Francis, who committed suicide. Her third marriage, to Walter William Thwaites, was bigamous, so she married him again a few years later.

Bob Cowley has a theory that Alfred John Dawson Francis was not actually the father of their fourth child, Louisa Francis. She was born eight months after his suicide in Sydney, and for the preceding four months he had lived apart from his family in Moruya. Louisa was adopted at the age of 18 months by Captain E.M. Battye, who had known the Green family in the Cape Colony and Canada, and Bob is investigating to see whether he could have been Louisa’s real father.

In the mean time I’ve been trying to find a record of her marriage to William Wilson in the Cape. No luck so far, at least not in Grahamstown Cathedral in the 1850s, where her brothers Edward and Arthur Green were married. Perhaps she eloped, and married under a different name.

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