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500 Class, A Social History of George Burton and his Family: Chapter 5 Western Solitude: George Mark Burton

Written in 1981 for the Burton Family Reunion held on 25th October 1981 at Walkerville, Adelaide, South Australia. Winner of the S.A. Family History Award for 1981.

Chapter 5 WESTERN SOLITUDE: GEORGE MARK BURTON

George Mark BURTON

b. 13 May 1864, Brighton, Sussex, England.

d. 10 November 1949, Perth, W.A.

m. 28 September 1892, Perth, W.A.

Harriet Harris

b. c l873, Perth, W.A. (?)

d. 16 March 1934, Perth, W.A.

decessit sine prole

Since his brother Arthur had taken his leave to return to South Australia, George Mark Burton had lived in Perth working as a labourer. He met a young dressmaker who took his eye and captured his heart. After a suitable courtship, George Burton and Harriet Harris were married in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Perth on 28th September 1892. With no family of his own present, witnesses were supplied by the Harris family, namely James, Harriet's father, and Clara Harris, possibly her sister. The parents of the bride were James Harris, a lock and gunsmith, and Margaret Harris (nee Jackman). Very likely James was an ex-convict but one cannot imagine that either the groom or the bride were privy to his secret.

It would appear that James Harris was born in England in 1827. At the time of his conviction he was described as a semi-literate, Protestant gun finisher. The records are not clear but he was convicted for one of the following offences: at Birmingham on 27th March 1849 for robbery with violence; at York on 11th July 1849 for burglary; at Stafford on 12th March 1850 for rape. The struggling colony of Western Australia had appealed in 1850 to the mother country for convicts to help develop its economy and economic infrastructure. When sentenced for fifteen years, James Harris was transported to the Antipodes on board the Mermaid, arriving in Swan River on 17th May 1851 as convict number 299. He received his ticket of leave on 28th October 1852 and his conditional pardon on 31st December 1861. James worked as a blacksmith after his arrival and between 1855 and 1857 worked on his own account. After he was freed he married Margaret Jackman and Harriet was born about 1873. Transportation to Western Australia ceased in 1868 but considering the sensitivity of the community to their convict stain, one can safely assume James Harris gave away his daughter with his past undisturbed.

The I890's were the golden decade for the western colony. The riches of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie together with their large attendant populations of eastern Australians, pushed Western Australia into Federation and the twentieth century. George and Harriet Burton lived and worked in Perth, having no children of their own. A 1914 electoral roll located George Mark Burton, labourer, and Harriet Burton, home duties, at 17 Hyde Street, North Perth. Six years later another roll described George as a lineman, as well as the couple's move to 15 Ethel Street, North Perth.

Harriet, aged sixty-one years, died in the Perth Public Hospital on 16th March 1934. An electoral roll of 1941 described George as a pensioner of 44 Evandale Street, Mount Hawthorn. By 1949, George Burton, now aged eighty-five years, was living in the Home of Peace, Subiaco. In his later years George, a widower with no children, must have felt keenly the separation from his family in South Australia. He corresponded annually with his sister Ella Freer by sending her a Christmas card and occasionally remembered a birthday. George had last seen Ella when she was a little girl waving on a Port Adelaide wharf. On receipt of a card from her brother, Ella would pause and reflect, "I wonder where he is now?" As far as is known, George Mark Burton never met any of his family after the two brothers separated in the late 1880's. His nephew, Henry Burton, visited Perth just after the Second World War and was aware his Uncle George was still alive but did not meet him. In retrospect how opportunities are lost. Why George was not included in his father's will invites speculation. Perhaps George senior had never forgiven him for remaining in the west. Did his son's marrying in a Roman Catholic Cathedral offend George so? Surely he would not have been aware of father-in-law James's convict background. Or maybe he simply thought it was too difficult to provide in his will for son George who was residing in relatively isolated Western Australia. The transcontinental railway was completed only in 1917, the year George had his will drawn up.

George Mark Burton died on 10th November 1949 at the Home of Peace, Subiaco. He died intestate. On his death certificate he was described as an electrician. So ended a long life much of which was spent separated from his family. Both George and Harriet Burton are buried in the Anglican Cemetery, Karrakatta, Perth, Western Australia. Perhaps the cemetery will be included in the itinerary when any member of the family next visits Perth.


Owner/SourceRodney Burton
Date1981
Linked toFamily: BURTON/BURT (F28)

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