Sarah White was my third great grandmother and I actually have a fair amount of information on her, despite the fact that it took me years of research to find anything beyond the bare basics.
Sarah was born around 1855, either in or around Sofala in Central West NSW. Today, Sofala is a tiny village that mainly caters to the tourist trade but in the 1850s it was a booming town thanks to the Gold Rush. According to her death certificate, Sarah’s parents were Thomas White and Bridget O’Neil. As I’ve never managed to find a birth certificate this is the best I’ve managed to find. I also don’t know how long Sarah and her parents remained in the Sofala area, but by 1868 Sarah had been admitted to the Newcastle Industrial School for Girls. Entrance records record that this was court ordered admission, with Sarah having been arrested by Coonabarabran Police, bit the crime that Sarah committed is not recorded.
The Newcastle Industrial School (in centre) c.1870. [Courtesy of the Cultural Collections University of Newcastle (Australia)]
At the time of her admission, Sarah was aged 13 years old. In the Entrance Book, Sarah’s mother is listed as Bridget White but her father’s name is not recorded with it simply stating him as ‘Dead’. Sarah is described as being a Roman Catholic and being able to read the second book and write on a slate. I can only assume based on other entries that a variety of book of different levels are provided to the girls to test their reading level on entry to the industrial school, and their ability to read up to a certain number book indicated their level of reading proficiency. Sarah was in the Newcastle Industrial School until May 1871, when she was transferred to the Biloela school which was located on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. It was here that Sarah was deemed to be fit for domestic service but she was never assigned as she was released from the school on 9 January 1872 into the custody of her mother, Bridget, and her stepfather William Leather at Warialda, NSW. This release had been specifically requested by Sarah’s mother and stepfather.
Exterior view of the Biloela Industrial School
The dormitory at Biloela, where the girls often sleep without any bedding
So, at the age of 17 Sarah was once more a part of the wider world. But she was not to remain with her parents for long, as she married William Henry Thompson in December 1872 at Inverell. Both parties list their residence as Yallaroi, which is located close to Warialda. It is interesting to note that no parent or age details appear on the marriage certificate, as Sarah would have legally required parental permission to marry as she was under the age of 21. We can assume that Sarah put her age up for the marriage, and was believed, because the marriage takes place. It’s also interesting that previous records confirm Sarah as being Roman Catholic yet she marries in the Presbyterian Church. Her husband was more than twice her age, being 36 at the time of their marriage.
Sarah and her husband went on to have at least nine children, but inconsistencies on her children’s birth records seem to indicate that there may have been more children who simply weren’t registered. Sarah and William moved around both NSW and Queensland, living variously in Yallaroi; Molong; Wattle Flat; Coonamble; Wallumbilla, Qld; Warwick, Qld; and Bingara NSW. It must have been hard for Sarah to move around so much, especially with children, but some descendants have indicated that quite a few of her children were left to other families to look after. This is based on oral histories that have been passed down within the families of other descendants. Bingara seems to be the place Sarah lived the longest during her married life, as she lived there for at least three years. Bingara was where her last two children were born and also where her husband William died at the age of 60 years old.
Sarah Thompson nee White
I’m not really sure what exactly happened to Sarah after the death of her husband, as there is no paper trail for this time. I can trace her children and the marriage and lives of those who survived into adulthood, but this doesn’t necessarily indicate Sarah’s location. For may years I could find no trace of Sarah after 1896, but in researching her children and their families I did eventually find a record of her on the 1930 Electoral Rolls for NSW which shows her living in Kankool with her daughter Lily’s family. However, on the 1936 Electoral Roll (which was the next one to follow the 1930 Roll) I could find no trace of her. I assumed that Sarah had probably died sometime in this time period so now that I had a time frame I could search for a death certificate.
The only problem was that I had no idea of Sarah’s parents names at this stage, and there was a total nine Sarah Thompson’s to die in NSW between 1930 and 1936. With no easy way to determine which record was for my Sarah, I had each entry checked and verified by a transcription agent to see if certain details matched those of my Sarah. Lucky for my patience, and my wallet, I found my Sarah was the fifth entry on the list. This confirmed Sarah had died 7 May 1934 at Glen Innes Hospital. It also confirmed Sarah’s birth place as Sofala, NSW and provided me with her parents names of Thomas White and Bridget O’Neil. The informant was her son-in-law, whose house she had previously been residing in, so obviously she had remained with the family.