Peter Finch (1845-1891) and his well-travelled son Henry

The Aorangi

Peter Finch – my 3rd great uncle.

Born in 1845, Peter could well have been the twin of his brother George as they were both baptised on 15 June that year – at St Mary’s Church in Reigate, Surrey. Unusually, parents Henry and Jane Finch had already had triplets.

Peter was my 3rd great uncle and ended up being one of the most adventurous of the 19th century Finches.

The 1861 census doesn’t mention Peter at home on Reigate Hill but does list what looks like a ‘Sela’ of Peter’s age, a labourer. I believe this is a mistake on the part of the enumerator because no other Sela exists in the records.

There are no other records of someone who could be our Peter in the UK in either census or death listings. There is a marriage of a Peter Finch and Eliza Esther Turner on 17 November 1867 at St Mary Magdalene in Peckham and while he was described as a labourer from Peckham, she was described as living in Reigate and the daughter of paper maker Henry Turner. This Peter fits ours, especially as his father is recorded as Henry, a labourer. The couple then emigrated.

A Peter Finch, born in 1845, sailed to Brisbane in Australia from Plymouth in Devon on 25 June 1869 aboard the Royal Dane (pictured below), captained by Lewis Davies, arriving on 25 September 1869. On the ship was Eliza Finch, born in about 1841. What motivated them to go remains unknown – an escape from poverty at home? Or perhaps they were given an assisted passage as part of the drive to bring new skills to the colony. A notation in the record collection ‘Queensland Customs House Shipping 1852-1885: Passengers and Crew Transcription’ states may solve the mystery: “Passenger from London; the ship sailed from London via Plymouth; Steerage Free Assisted”.

Peter Finch's death certificate
Peter Finch’s death certificate

The ship was a rigged wooden clipper built in 1854 by Toby & Littlefield, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and named the Sierra Nevada. In 1863 it was sold to Mackay & Baines in London for the Black Ball Line and was renamed Royal Dane in honour of Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, becoming one of the most popular ships on the run from the UK to Queensland. She ended her days by foundering off the Chilean coast, near San Carlos, on 15 June 1878 when homeward bound filled with guano.

Further evidence to prove these are our relatives are their death certificates. An Eliza E Finch (father Henry) died in 1895 in Leichhardt, New South Wales. Peter’s shows him as the son of Henry and Jane and from Reigate. He died on 4 October 1891, at 40 Burfitt Street, after suffering for a year from a malignant disease of the stomach. His property, with four rooms, a kitchen and washhouse, was valued at £250. His other effects, including a watch, chain, ring, three beds and a dining table, were valued at £20. He had no liabilities.

At the time of his death he was still working as a bricklayer.

Ludwig Leichhardt
Ludwig Leichhardt

The couple had at least 7 children in New South Wales but 3 died as babies. Alice was born in Hartley in 1870, Minnie followed in 1873 in Hill End and then Henry Phillip in Waterloo in 1874. Amelia was born in 1876, also in Waterloo, but died the following year, while Rose was born in Balmain in 1879. William Peter was born there in 1882 but died the same year in Leichhardt. Ethel Eliza was born and died there in 1884. A further child, Albert George, is mentioned in the death certificate and looks to have been born in about 1880.

Balmain, Waterloo and Leichhardt are all in the heart of modern Sydney but Hartley and Hill End lie on the other side of the Blue Mountains. Leichhardt is 5 kilometres west of the central business district. It’s named after the Prussian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, who vanished without trace in 1848 during his attempt to cross the continent from the Darling Downs to the Swan River Colony on the Western Australian coast.

These days Leichhardt has a prominent Italian community and, interestingly, there is a Finch Street in the town.

Henry's wedding certificate
Henry’s wedding certificate

But it wasn’t just Peter who had itchy feet and moved half-way round the world to start a new life. His oldest son Henry Philip Finch ended up in the United States.

He set sail as a single man on 3 December 1900 for Honolulu in Hawaii on the SS Miowara, arriving on 19 December. At the time Hawaii had just gone from being an independent republic to being annexed by the USA (it would become a state in 1959). After a few months there he then sailed for Victoria, British Colombia, on the Premier, and then travelled to Seattle in the US.

His World War One draft registration card – FHL roll number 1991649 – completed on 12 September 1918 showed him working as a shipwright at Skinner and Eddy shipyard in the city.

In December 1924 he submitted his application to become a naturalised citizen of the USA. On his application he was described as a carpenter, 5ft 10ins tall with brown hair and blue eyes and married to Bergliot – a Norwegian born in November 1887 and who arrived in the US in 1903. An earlier petition he lodged in Butte, Montana, was mysteriously ‘denied with prejudice’ on 25 November 1917. What happened to the 1924 petition is a mystery but a further one was lodged in 1927 and this listed his children as Rose Bergliot, Signe Irene and Harriet Ester. Henry’s US naturalisation date was finally granted by the circuit court of Seattle in 1928.

The 1930 US census recorded Henry living with his wife, now known as Belle, and Harriet in Sunningdale Precinct, King County, Washington State (they were also there in 1920).

The Royal Dane, on which the family sailed to Australia
The Royal Dane, on which the family sailed to Australia

On 22 May 1930 Henry arrived at the ports of Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, on the ship Aorangi (pictured top), which had sailed from Sydney, Australia. He had obviously paid a visit to his homeland. Indeed, in 1935 Bergliot went to Australia on the Aorangi to visit their daughter, now Mrs Rose Hunt of 10 William Street, Double Bay, Sydney. Henry’s sister Minnie, who had married Frederick Emmerick in 1897 in Leichhardt, travelled to Seattle in September 1926, presumably to visit him.

The 1940 census listed Henry and his wife living at 450 S 160th Street in Seattle. She was working as a housekeeper in a clubhouse but he was still a carpenter. Henry died on 9 June 1945.

In 1947 Bergliot travelled (first class) to Norway from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic on the Fred Olsen ship Abraham Lincoln, landing en route at Liverpool.

An earlier document, the 1910 Norwegian census, appears to show Bergliot staying with her children Rose, Signe and Fredrik in Oslo (Kristiania) – with the Solberg family at Sporveisgate 21. Assuming the people she lived with were immediate family, her parents were Christian and Kerstin and her siblings Gyda, Waldemar and Kolbjorn.

Sources: and for BMDs, census and emigration/immigration records, Surrey Family History Centre (Woking), New South Wales BDM serviceRoyal Dane information. Other sources as noted in the text.

One Reply to “Peter Finch (1845-1891) and his well-travelled son Henry”

  1. Annecke Flaaten says: Reply

    Bergliot was my grandmothers aunt. My grandmothers father was Bergliots brother Waldemar, so you got the right family in Sporveisgata in Oslo. Bergliot kept sending pictures from her life in America + her travels to Australia to her sister Gyda. I got Gydas photoalbums + I wrote about this family in my own research of my family history. Contact me if you like.
    09.01.2018 Annecke, Norway

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