William Sharley (1772 – 1851 and Anna Crouch (1772 – 1842). Horsington, Somerset

William Sharley was born around 1781 in Ringwood, Hampshire, England.  I have not yet been able to find him in any of the available parish registers online (he is pre-civil registration) so I cannot say at this point who his parents are.  Using my very best reasonable ‘guess,’ i am fairly comfortable that Anna’s parents were James and Fanny Crouch from Kilmington, Somerset.  If all of this is correct then Anna was baptised on the 3rd January 1782. Like William, Anna was born pre-civil registration.  I’ve been through the Horsington parish registers for 1781 through to 1783 and she is not listed.  The next best educated guess with the information I have shows her to be connected as above.

Right off the mark one of the features I have discovered whilst looking for my Sharley/Shirley ancestors is that the recorders of the time spelled Sharley in as many different ways as they surely could! (Pardon the terrible pun).  At the time that William and Anna were born ‘mad King George III’ was on the throne of England.  This was a time of turbulence and rapid change for the British.

King George iii

King George III

Ringwood in the south of England could fairly be described as an ancient town whose roots steep back into the earliest settlement of England.  Edging onto the New Forest it had long been and remains today a market-town upon the river Avon.  At the time that William was born the society of England in the eighteenth century was one that had broadly been agrarian or land-producing based. William himself would work as an agricultural labourers throughout  his life  ( a career that was followed by sons and grand-sons) it is likely and reasonable to accept that this was the ‘family business’ so to speak and may have been the case for many generations of Sharley men and women.

Agricultural Labourer

Agricultural Labourer, 18th century England

Kirsten Olsen tells us in her book (Daily life in eighteenth century England, 1999) that the week that the Sharley’s probably experienced would have featured a Monday to Saturday work week, rising before the dawn with a break at mid-day for the main meal of the day.  Back to work until about five which was the norm for agrarian workers. They were often known as labourers or agricultural labourers. The agrarian worker was considered an unskilled workforce who worked for others in the main often on a seasonal rotation.  If they were fortunate they would have held some small-holdings themselves that they leased from the landowner.  The produce of this small-holding would have gone towards feeding their own family.  The excess would be sold at market or traded for kind by the wife of the worker.  What was becoming evident in the latter seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in Somerset was that the old system of working strips or small holdings of land as opposed to larger holdings with more productive systems was largely inefficient and not making the best value of the land.  Following the physical work of the day the labourer might turn into the inn on the way home for a beer and conversation with his fellows.  He would then head for home for his lighter meal of a ‘supper’ with his family.  Household chores and time with family would follow prior to heading to bed as the moon rose.  He and his wife would rise the following day and repeat the process. Sundays were spent with church in the morning in the cleanest and best apparel one could stump up in.

The Sharley family were Church of England and like many of their neighbours the time following church may have been their most favoured as they socialised and gossiped with friends and neighbours before heading home for a traditional Sunday lunch with the afternoon given over to rest.  For the man who did not make it to work during the week, whatever the reason, there was no pay.  For the man who could not, or would not work regularly, there was no work. In the Sharley family education would have been quite a simple affair and if lucky you would have been taught to write your name.  Agricultural labourers had little need for writing and reading.  Their bible was read to them at church.  They were unlikely to receive ‘mail’.  Time was against them learning given the length of their  days and short periods of respite.

In contrast the Sharley women had days that were governed by the movements of the men and children.  Meal preparation, storing food for when it was less available, cleaning the home, (including excluding pests and rodents).  This latter would have been less about impressing the neighbours and more about providing a healthful atmosphere for the family.  Sickness was rife in the eighteenth century and medications and treatments sparse and frequently ineffective.  Clothing would have to be cleaned, mended, made, ironed, as would their bedding.  All of these time intensive and heavy labour tasks done without any convenient form of modern appliance.  Shopping had to be done regularly and as needed as neither spare income and only limited preservation methods were available.  Children were born raised (often buried), and given as best an education as the mother could furnish. Life for women in the 1800’s was one of obligation.  You had few rights beyond those afforded by the men who controlled your days.  Whether this was your father and brothers and then your husband; a woman’s role was seen as one of eternal servitude.  She owned nothing upon marrying as all property passed to her husband.  If you made a poor marriage you were expected to stay in it.

For the reasons already discussed agrarian labouring families did not value literacy and in village towns its access would have been limited to what the local clergy would or could provide.  The world of Jane Austen (a Hampshire local of much the same age as William and Anna), whose books captured the eighteenth-century imagination of those who could and had the time to read had no place in the world that the Sharley’s occupied.  Theirs was a world of hard-work, observation and reliance on their neighbours and community for support and one where to not follow the dictates of the church and local landowner was to court disaster with punitive punishment or worst of all ostracisation.  For the man or woman who had nowhere to turn, ruination was imminent and entering the workhouse for a what was believed to be a sure death in treacherous circumstances was the only option. The term subsistence living is frequently used in  describing the agricultural labouring family in England.  It is a fairly accurate description of the fragility with which their lives were hinged on the failure or success of the community within which they resided. As Mr Knightley chided Emma for her choice of manners in insulting a poor woman who could not rise above her place, in Austen’s novel of the same name (1815) and as she so accurately described.  To be a family in the England of this time was to be tied irrevocably to your station in life.  You were born into your place and you stayed in it to death. Evermore so if you were rural-based such as the Sharley’s were.  Occasionally however, the odd one got loose and was able to carve out a different life.

William married Anna Crouch on the 22nd January 1799 in Horsington, Somerset, England. On the marriage records it appears that both William and Anna are able to write their names and they subsequently do so.  William spells his surname as Sharley even though the minister spells it as Sharly.  William doesn’t pick this up but spells his name the ‘right’ way. This indicates to me that he could write his own name as could Anna but they could not read further than this.  Later in New Zealand his son will spell it as Shirley and it is likely that the Sharley relates to how the family of the time pronounced it or it may have been its ‘old English’ spelling.  As we’ve discussed spelling even for the official-recorders in eighteenth century England was fairly hit and miss.

What is interesting to me is that William was always an agricultural labourer.  They didn’t tend to move around overmuch.  Richmond in Hampshire where he was born to Horsington in Somerset where he married Anna (and she was ‘from’ Horsington) is a distance of 130 kilometres.  For people who didn’t travel more than ten kilometres from home as a regular practice this might as well have been going to the moon!  Travel was expensive and if you were William, tiring – as you would have likely had to do it on foot.  Now I don’t know about you, but even today the idea of walking 130 kilometres does not excite me.  So, what was William doing in Horsington?  Even more so it was not the tradition for a man to move to where his wife was from.  However whatever the mystery when he married Anna he was recorded in the church records as this being ‘his’ parish also so he was obviously living there.  He would remain like Anna in the area the remainder of his life. I wonder did his parents move there when he was younger?

William and Anna had what was considered a fairly normal sized family for the times.  Their first child Thomas Sharley (who is my ancestor), was born in 1799 as would all their children be in Horsington. He was followed by Henry Sharley in 1803, Melinda Sharley in 1805, John Crouch Sharley in 1807, William Sharley in 1810, Ann Sharley in 1811, James Sharley in 1813, Charles Sharley in 1816 and Mary Fannia Sharley in 1818.Amelia Sharley would follow in 1826 and  the following year the last of the children, Jane Sharley was born.

Of their children, Melinda would die at the age of sixteen.  This must have been heart-breaking to her parents as she was on the cusp of starting out her own life.

Thomas and his brother James would both emigrate to the new colony of New Zealand as pioneers. They must have had enough of the adventurers spirit to see that their situations in England would not change and the risk would be worth it?  For them and their families it did indeed pay off. Upon arrival in New Zealand Thomas and his family would quickly shake of the Sharley for the more modern Shirley which it would then remain.  James was more of a traditionalist and hung onto his Sharley until quite late in life when he capitulated to Shirley.  For all the New Zealand descendants then on it became Shirley.

Henry Sharley take a look HERE.  Thanks to Roger Shirley’s research this gave me the VITAL clue to then seek Ancestry and lo and behold his military records popped up! A good thing too because I was chasing a Henry Sharley’s who went to Australia (assizes 1831) as a convict to see if he was our Henry. Henry had somehow managed to change from his families agricultural labouring history and instead joined the military.  He rose to Seargeant with the 77th Foot Sir John Macleod regiment (army).  He married Elizabeth Jones and they resided in the city of London.

John Crouch Sharley (named for his mother’s people) married Martha Weare and had two children, John and Marianne.   I’ve got a John Sharley who matches dates and place of birth but turns up many years later in Godalming, Surrey first as a labourer and then as a engine-man. The only problem is his wife’s name is Mary Anne not Martha so I don’t know if that is a fit. I’ve got another John Sherley who turns up as a policeman on the 1841 census in Bristol however he is on his own and the date of birth is given as 1811 not our 1807.  So again bit of a mystery man.

William Sharley I’m just not sure about.  There are two solid contenders who could have been his wife around the same time.  So rather than run the risk of tying in the wrong one, I’ll leave that one to his someone else to work out.  He either stayed in Somerset or moved to Gloucester.

Of their daughter Ann Sharley I’m afraid I can’t offer much.  I am curious however to know what became of her?

James followed his older brother Thomas out to New Zealand in the Poverty Bay region with his family a few years after Thomas had left.  James and his wife Mary-Ellen (nee Cook) who was  called “Ellen” sound like they might have been a fun pair!  A family of eight children some born in New Zealand.  In her obituary in the New Zealand papers it was remarked that Mary-Ellen had been an energetic woman of her times who would often be seen bringing the milk from their dairy into market on a wagon with a single oxen and unusually quite alone in the proceedings.  From what I’ve read in the newspapers of James and his wife it sounds to me like they were a real pair of self-starters.  Good for them it was what was needed in the pioneer stock of the day.

Charles Sharley aged 21 married Maria, now it could be Burt, Bert or But.  I’ve studied the record and I can’t make it out and not knowing her family history I’m not able to say one way or the other. It has been transcribed as Bert.  I’ve compared the ‘e’ the author used in Sherley/Sharley and Maria’s name and it is still not clear to me.  Either way Maria was a girl from nearby Holton in Somersert.  They married and stayed in the area.  Like his father before him Charles was an agricultural labourer. Maria rather tragically died young and was buried on 31 December 1855.  She was only 41 at the time and the youngest of her five children only five years old.  What happened next could only be reflected as the short-sighted cruelty of the times.  In 1857 to two occasions.  One for twenty-one days and the second for three months.  Charles was sent to Shepton-Mallet Prison in Shepton-Mallet, twenty-one kilometres away for the felonious charge of having left his children ‘chargeable to the parish of Horsington’.  Who knows what happened that the poor-bugger needed financial help with looking after his motherless children and as a result he was slung into prison twice!  In the July of 1860, Charles married Sarah Ann Tufton of Horsington.  This was quickly followed by another stack of children being added to his family over the next ten years. Charles wound up with his whole family in  winter in 1873 in the Wincanton workhouse.  He was too sick to work.  Within a few months he was able to leave the workhouse with his family as he had recovered. Tragically for the family by 1875 Charles had succumbed to consumption having lost two of his youngest children in the preceding two years (likely to have been the same cause).  Sarah must have been a comely woman because by 1878 she had re-married to a John Davey also an agricultural labourer and was living in Wincanton, Somerset and had some of her Sharley children living with her and had had another son, William with John.  From what I can make out it looks like John and Sarah made the rest of their lives around Bristol.

Mary Fannia Sharley, like her sister Ann Sharley I can’t offer much at all.  I’ve looked extensively with the resources available to me and so far I’m drawing a bit of a blank. A bit of a clue possibly is that Mary’s middle name Fannia is likely to be for her maternal grandmother, Fannia or Fanny Crouch.

Later in their lives at 44 William and Anna had a daughter Amelia Sharley and then the following year aged 46 another daughter, Jane Sharley.  Whilst finding information on what happened to Amelia is still drawing a bit of a blank, what is certain that 1842 was a very bad year for the Sharley family.  Their daughter Jane died aged just fourteen in the April.  On the 1st November of the same year tragedy would strike again with the death of William’s wife Anna. This left William with not only a grown family but a sixteen year old daughter still at home.

In the 1851 census at the age of 70 and just prior to his death William would be living still in Horsington with a young couple George and Mary Abourt as a lodger in their home.  George was also a agricultural labourer and Mary a glover.  Quite sadly it is commented next to William’s name that by this time in his life he was not only widowed but a pauper.  It would appear there were no other family who could look after him.  William was buried in Horsington on the 18th June 1851. I like to think to myself that maybe the Abourt’s were close friends, maybe relatives of a type who cared for William in this last of his life.

I wonder did William muse in his later days how unlike him where his future was set by the conditions of his birth, how his own children had in many cases managed to break away from what appeared to be a pre-ordained destiny?  If it had not been for the radical changes to industrial England during his time and the opening up of the antipodean colonies in the southern hemisphere, how different might their lives have been?