By Averil Staunton
Information gathered from Pam Osmond 2012 and Jenny Chester 2017. Edited 2023
Ann Chester (née Solan) travelled from Ballinrobe Workhouse as an Earl Grey Orphan in 1849 arriving on the 12th January 1850. Her mother’s name was Ann as recorded on the immigrations records. The family bible shows that she was born on 12 January 1831 in Ballen Robae (sic), Ireland.
With Ann being a variation of Honor or Annora it is possible she shortened her name on the voyage to Australia. Jenny (Chester a descended from Thomas) mentioned that her grandmother spoke of Thomas wife ‘Honora’.
She could not read or write but was apparently a good nursemaid. Her first indentured job was with Christopher Martin of 523 Kent Street, The Rocks for £8 for 12 months.
Ann met and married Thomas Chester in Sydney in 1851 at St Mary’s Cathedral on 18th August 1851. They settled in The Rocks where they remained for the rest of their lives apart from the couple deciding to work at the Victoria goldfields for a short while. They returned with three children, their first being called Lucy, and settled in Kent Street. Following this a further 3 children were born between 1855 and 1860. One of these children died.
By 1864 they had six children in a four roomed house when another child died. They obviously did well, as they moved to a larger 2 storey house at 7 Princes Street, which had 7 rooms by 1867. Their last child Minnie was born there in 1869.
Subsequently Thomas proved to be ambitious and he stood as a candidate for Gipps Ward in Sydney in the Municipal election in 1873. His main electoral aim was to argue against the fundraising to build the present Sydney Town Hall; fortunately he lost that election.
At this time Ann and Thomas’s marriage was breaking down and he had an affair with Emma Wigginton and they had a child together named Thomas Ditton Chester Allen in 1872. Emma must have moved in with him as they had 4 more children. Emma was the sole beneficiary of Thomas’ will, dated 24 November 1892. All this was in spite of his legal wife, Ann was still living. Jenny (Chester) suggests that both families lived there side by side as Ann being a Catholic would not consider divorce.
Thomas Chester provided by Pamela Osmond’s whose (maternal) great grandmother was Ann (Honor) Solan.
Thomas Ditton Chester was born in Dover, England on 9 October 1826. He was the third son of Charles, a tailor (later policeman, later railway porter) and Charlotte. The date of Thomas’ arrival in Australia is unknown but his obituary provides a clue as it claims that he ‘came from Kent to Melbourne in 1849’.3 No records of his arrival have been found but it is possible that he stowed away on a ship leaving his native Dover and arrived illegally, as was common for many young men who lived near ports at the time. The obituary further notes ‘he was a digger [gold?] until 1851 when he came round to Port Jackson’. In 1851 when he married Ann we can locate him in The Rocks where he remained for the remainder of his life. You will find the full story of Thomas Chester on www.historicalballinrobe.com by August 2023
Ann Solan’s later years
When Ann moved into a three-roomed house at 97 Cumberland Street at an annual rent of £28 she had 5 children living at home (2 daughters had already married) and she was still only 46 years old.
When Ann and Thomas separated, he had transferred a property at 2 Kent Street and the other properties into Ann’s name. She was registered as the ‘owner or landlord’ of those properties by 1877. Unfortunately Thomas appears to have re-considered the transfer and attempted to sell the property, without her knowledge or against her wishes. A For Sale notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald:
FOR SALE (Freehold) one 4-roomed COTTAGE, with kitchen detached, also three COTTAGES at back, situated at No. 2, Kent-Street North. For full particulars apply to Mr T. CHESTER, No. 4, Prince-street north.
Ann quickly retaliated in the Sydney Morning Herald three days later noting that:
CAUTION – The public are cautioned against purchasing the PROPERTY situated in Kent-street North, Sydney, consisting of a Cottage known as No. 2 Kent-street; and three brick houses, at the rear; the same having been made over by deed of gift to me and my son by my husband, Mr Thomas Chester.
Signed Ann Chester
By June 1877 Ann was resident at 2 Kent Street as evidenced by the following notice:
THIS is to give Notice that ANN CHESTER, wife of THOMAS CHESTER, Stevedore, No. 4, Prince Street, Sydney, is not dead as reported; but is residing at No. 2, Kent Street, Sydney.
Signed: Mrs Ann Chester
The conflict over the properties obviously continued, as Thomas undaunted made another attempt to sell them in August, 1877, just two months after the above announcement. By 1882 we find Ann as the owner and resident of No. 10 Kent Street with 3 cottages behind it.
Anne remained here with the family until 1907. It is unclear whether she sold No. 2 and bought No. 10 or whether these are in fact the same property. Given the geography of the area it is possible that the houses in that area were re-numbered between 1877 and 1882 and that Numbers 2 and 10 are the same property.
The 1891 records show Ann still owner of the Kent Street properties but they had a tenant. She is not shown on the records as being the ‘person rated’ anywhere in The Rocks. Perhaps she was living with one of her daughters. Possibly she was in Victoria with her daughter Annie whose first husband died there in 1891 or in South Australia with her daughter Lucy, who also died in 1891of kidney disease.
The 1896 records show that her son-in-law William McCormack was a tenant in 10 Kent Street. William had married Ann’s daughter, Harriet in 1882.
Joseph Knock was another tenant at one of Ann’s ‘off Kent St’ properties at that time who later married Ann’s daughter Annie in 1895. No. 10 Kent Street had obviously become a Chester family compound.
The 1902 records show Anne is again resident at 10 Kent Street. Joseph and Annie Knock are still there but Harriet and William McCormack and their family had moved. Anne lived with the Knock family for the remainder of her life
By 1907 these Kent Street properties were all demolished to make way for the Argyle Cut upgrade. Joseph Knock was now the tenant at 3 Windmill Street, which was owned by the New South Wales Government. It was a new two-storey, six room building in a row of terraces built by the state government in an attempt to clean up The Rocks after the outbreak of Bubonic Plague there in about 1900. They paid an annual rent of £41.
Ann moved to 3 Windmill Street until she died, with Joseph and Annie and their family. Windmill Street must have represented the last word in modernity for Ann at last, 58 years after she left the workhouse in Ireland.
Ann stayed there with Joseph and Annie until she died of bronchitis in 1920, aged 91. A notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald deaths column on Monday 5 July:
CHESTER July 2 at her residence 3 Windmill St Millers Point, Ann, relict of the late Thomas Chester, stevedore, late of Princes Street City, aged 91 years. RIP.15
At the time of her death, five of her 11 children were still alive. Notices were placed in the funerals column of the Sydney Morning Herald by the families of four of her daughters ‘to attend the funeral of their beloved mother and Grandmother Ann’. The name of Minnie, my grandmother was not amongst them. She had obviously been estranged from her mother for some years.
The In Memoriam column of the Sydney Morning Herald in the following year has the following entries:
CHESTER – In loving memory of our mother, Ann Chester, the widow of the late Thomas Chester, merchant stevedore; of Princes-street, city, who passed away on July 2, 1920.
In the old home you are remembered.
Sweet memories cling around your name:
The hearts that held you in deepest affection
Love you in death just the same.
Inserted by her daughter and son-in-law. Annie and J Knock.
CHESTER – In loving memory of our dear mother and grandma, Ann, wife of Thomas D. Chester, stevedore. No. 4 Princes-street, city, who departed this life July 2, 1920. Inserted by Mr and Mrs Maxwell and family.
In loving memory of our dear grandma, who passed away on July 2,1920.
You are not forgotten, grandma dear.
Or the good advice you gave.
Inserted by her loving granddaughters, Maud, Florrie, and Violet.
Ann is buried at Rookwood Cemetery in a grave with her daughter, Annie, Annie’s husband Joseph Knock and her grandson Reginald who died aged 6 years 11 months. The grave is in a deserted, neglected part of Rookwood; overrun but very peaceful and under enormous eucalyptus trees; a long way from the Ballinrobe Workhouse I visited it in 2006 and left her some flowers.
Pamela Osmond wondered who the last person to stand by that grave was. It felt like a memorial to a close and loving family