Lancashire Rose


Harpurhey School spacer plaque
Harpurhey   Plaque on the Thornber School
Thornber School   painting of Thornber Schooll
As pictured in 2002   A painting of the school

The Thornber School, named Harpurhey at Unley Park, Adelaide, South Australia

1. Introduction

Research on this family was stimulated by contact with Margaret Thomas née Thornber, the great great grand daughter of Robert Thornber who emigrated to Australia. Subsequently, I have also had much correspondence with Margaret's cousin, Michael Thornber, who also lives in Australia. The family settled originally in South Australia but now live mainly in Western Australia.

Mike informs me that his ancestor, Robert Thornber, sailed to Australia on the Thomas Harrison, probably arriving at Port Adelaide on 28 February 1839. Robert's wife Catherine Maria Thornber, née Rowland with their four children, together with Catherine Maria's father, Charles Rowland, and her sister, Mary Ellen Rowland, followed in the Superb, arriving at Port Adelaide in 1840, probably on the 22 November but possibly on an earlier voyage. The couple had a further four children in Australia.

Catherine's father, Charles Rowland, was born about 1790. He lived in Glenelg, Adelaide and died aged 91 on 11 August 1881. On his death certificate, he was described as 'gentleman' which probably indicates of independent means. There is a family tradition that Charles was at the Battle of Waterloo and was presented with a set of fish knives by the King, which are now in the possession of Brian Thornber. Charles had another daughter, Mary Ellen Rowland (1824-1911) who also emigrated to Australia. (Shipping records and obituary of Catherine Maria Thornber.)

An interesting feature of the family tree is that Robert's wife, Catherine Maria Thornber and her daughters, Catherine Maria, Rachel and Ellen, founded an Anglican School for girls at Unley Park in South Australia and called it Harpurhey. A book entitled Age of Transition - A Study of four South Australian private girls' schools, 1855-1926, by Dr. Helen Reid devotes Chapter 6 to the Thornber school at Unley. The building (Harpurhey) is National Heritage listed. The pictures above was kindley provided by Mike Thornber and shows Harpurhey in 1906. It is from a postcard that Catherine Maria Thornber sent to Mrs. Charles Rowland Thornber, her sister-in-law. I am grateful to Mike for sending me an account of the Thornber School at Unley which I include here as a pdf file. An interesting element of the story of the Unley School, to me, as a chemist, is that Howard Walter Florey, attended the kindergarten in the early 1900s. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1945 with Alexander Fleming for the development of penicillin. The story is covered in a newspaper article from Courier, 16 May 2000, written by Jewel Topsfield and sent to me by Mike Thornber.

2. New Data from Research in England

My own research was to try to identify the family in Manchester prior to their departure. There was in the IGI, information from an ancestral file, with estimates of birth years and places but without any baptism records. This information had been submitted by Margaret Thomas’s niece, Vicki D. Grinceri. According to this source, Robert Thornber was born in Manchester but no supporting information was given from baptism records. From my own research there are not many Thornbers in Manchester before about 1800 and no baptism of a Robert has so far been found for Manchester. All the Nonconformist registers have not yet been examined but given Robert's known Anglican sympathies in Australia it seems likely that he was from an Anglican family. He donated land to the establishment of St. Michael’s Anglican Church in 1848 at Mitcham, a suburb or Adelaide.

The first step was to see what data could be obtained by consulting the original records at Manchester Central Library. The following findings have been made:

a). Robert Thornber and Catherine Maria Rowland were married at St. John's Deansgate in Manchester on 14 April 1833, by Licence. Robert was said to be of the parish of Nottingham and to be a hosier while Catherine was described only as a spinster. Bride and groom both signed the register. The witnesses were Charles Rowland and William Holland. A copy of the licence was obtained showing that Robert was born about 1812 and Catherine Maria Rowland about 1814. Catherine's father was stated to be Charles Rowland.

b). Charles Rowland Thornber's baptism record has been found for St. John's Deansgate Manchester. He was baptised on 17 Feb 1836 but the register shows that he was born on 9 June 1832, the year before his parents married. He was described as the son of Robert Thornber, hosier, and Catherine Maria Thornber of Harpurhey.

c). Edward Thornber, son of Robert and Catherine Maria of Harpur Hey, hosier, was born 11 April 1836 and baptised 12 May 1836 at St. John’s Deansgate, Manchester.

d). Robert and Catherine Maria Thornber's daughter Catherine Maria was believed to have been born in Manchester on 17 November 1837. There was not a baptism at St. John's Deansgate in the period between the birth and the departure of the family for Australia. A birth certificate has now been obtained.

e). Rachel Thornber, daughter of Robert and Catherine Maria was believed to be born in Manchester on 3 March 1839. Rachel was not baptised at St. John's Deansgate in the period from 1839 to the departure for Australia. However, a birth certificate has now been obtained.

f). No Thornber burials are recorded as St. John’s Deansgate in the period from 1832 to 1841.

g). Charles Rowland is in the Pigot's Trade Directory for Manchester in 1830 at 267 Deansgate. In 1834 he was listed as a hosier and glover at 78 Deansgate. From this it seem possible that Robert Thornber as a hosier met Catherine Maria Rowland through the haberdashery trade or that Charles Rowland secured him a job in this field.

On the basis of this evidence it looks as if Robert Thornber must have been in Manchester in about 1831 when his first child was conceived. He then went to to Nottingham for a time as he is described as being from Nottingham when he married Catherine Maria Rowland in 1833. It seems likely that he was the father of Charles Rowland Thornber as the child was baptised with his surname in 1836. There is no baptism record for a Charles baptised in his mother's maiden name of Rowland in the period from his birth to 1833.

The General Registration Office index of births has been consulted and all the Thornber records from 1837 to 1851 have been abstracted. Copies of the birth certificates have been obtained for most of the Thornber births in Manchester, including Catherine Maria and Rachel Thornber from this branch.

3. New Information from Australia

Since this page has been on my site, I have been contacted by Mark Nelson who lives two doors away from the Thornber school in Unley Park. When the school closed in 1910, Catherine, Ellen and possibly their sister Rachel too, built a cottage on land owned by the school. This cottage, now enlarged and called Thornber House, is occupied by Mark and his family. Through curiosity about the history of the house and school, Mark has conducted some local history research into the family. Among his findings are that Rachel died in February 1930 and her obituary in the Adelaide Chronicle dated 13 February states:

Miss Rachel Thornber, who died at her home, Thornber Street, Unley Park on Tuesday was a month short of 91 years. She was born in Manchester and came to Australia with her parents when an infant. Her father, Mr Robert Thornber who became a large property owner in the district presented the land on which St Michaels Church of England stands, and this church Miss Thornber attended. Two sisters of Miss Thornber, the late Kathryn Thornber and Miss Ellen Thornber carried on at Unley Park a private school which had been started by their mother. Mr Robert Thornber of Sydney is a brother."

Mark Nelson has also discovered that the family were listed in a census of 1841, only a year after their arrival in Australia, as follows: "Robert Thornber, male under 35 years of age; Catherine female under 35; Charles male under 14; Edward male under 7; Maria female under 7; Rachel female under 7." The daughter Catherine Maria must have been listed as Maria.

I have also been contacted by Mark Thornber in Perth who is the great great great grandson of Robert Thornber at the head of this branch of the family. He has been able to contact Mark Nelson to visit the Thornber property at Unley Park.

I am very graterful to Merle Thornber in Australia for sending me details from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, 1891-1939, General Editor: John Ritchie, Melbourne University Press, 1990, pages 217-8 which covers Catherine Maria Thornber and three daughters, Catherine Maria, Rachel Ann and Ellen. This source states that Catherine Maria Rowland was born in Rodd, Hertfordshire, England. Her husband, Robert, donated land for the Anglican church of St. Michael in Micham, South Australia. After Robert's death, Catherine Maria opened a school at Mitcham in 1855, which was later moved to Unley Park. It became an academy for young ladies, particularly the daughters of clergy and other professional men. Three of Catherine Maria's daughters contributed to the life of the school. Catherine, the eldest daughter, was music governess and became headmistress on the death of her mother in 1894. At that time, Ellen, the third daughter, was travelling in England to attend educational conferences and visit girls' schools. Six year later, Catherine made a similar journey. By 1898 the school had 125 pupils and offered on its curriculum chemistry, physics, geology, botany, geography, history, literature, French and German. Physical education included club-swinging, drill, tennis, cricket and swimming. The school prepared pupils for admission to universities, which at that period usually discriminated against women. Rachel, the second daughter, suffered from a stutter and was of a quieter disposition than her two talented sisters. She ran the school boarding house. Catherine was said to be small, dainty and precise while Ellen, who was an enthusiast for educational theory had attended university in 1880 and the teachers' training college in 1885-1886. She lived until 1947. The Thornber bursary for women at the University of Adelaide commemorates Miss Catherine, who died in 1924 at her home at 39 Thornber Street, Unley Park. The school continued until 1911 by which time the state was providing secondary education.

In addition Merle has sent me details on this family from South Australian Birth and Death Registrations. These are shown in the tree below with the intials "SAR" for South Australia Registration. Merle has also identified some details of New South Wales registrations which refer to the same family. These are shown as "NSWR".

Catherine Maria THORNBER, daughter of Robert Thornber and Catherine Maria Rowland was born at Harpurhey, Lancashire, in 1837 according to her published obiturary.

4. The Identity of Robert Thornber

At the beginning of the research on this family, Robert's origins were not known.  Circumstantial evidence was assembled pointing to Robert being the son of James Thornber and Ann Hartley. Eventually this was confirmed by information received from correspondents in Australia who contacted me after seeing the information on this web site.

Robert is not a common name among the Thornber families in the early 19th century. Given that the main information on his birth year at the outset was from a marriage licence it was wise to allow a few years on each side of the year 1812 in considering possible candidates. Most of the known candidates have been eliminated on the grounds that their burial is known in England or they lived in England after 1840.   Unless other records emerged the only remaining candidate was Robert son of James & Ann Thornber (cotton mnf), born 23 October 1810, baptised 16 December 1810 at Colne St. Bartholomew. He does not appear to have been buried at Colne Parish Church prior to 1841 and does not appear in the census for 1841 in Colne. Robert was one of eight children of James and Ann Thornber baptised at Colne as shown below:

Mary, dau. of James and Ann Thornber, farmer, bapt. Colne St. Bartholomew's, 25 May 1800.
John, son of James & Ann Thornber, cotton mnf, Colne St. Bartholomew, 10 April 1802
Margaret, dau. of James & Ann Thornber, cotton mnf, Colne St. Bartholomew, 16 Sept. 1804
Isabella, dau of James & Ann Thornber, cotton mnf, Colne St. Bartholomew, 6 June 1806.
Henry Hartley, son of James & Ann, shop keeper, bapt. Colne, St. Bartholomew's, 18 Sept 1808
James Blakey, son of James & Ann, shopkeeper, bapt. Colne, St. Bartholomews, 18 Sept. 1808
Robert, son of James & Ann Thornber, cotton mnf, Colne St. Bartholomew, born 23 Oct, bapt. 16 Dec 1810
Ann, dau. of James & Ann Thornber, cotton mnf, Colne St. Bartholomew, 22 Aug 1815

A James Thornber married Ann Hartley at Colne St. Bartholomew on 28 October 1798 and this is the only James and Ann in the area with a marriage date just before the first known child. Although James Thornber's occupation is a farmer at the outset then a cotton manufacturer and shop keeper, it seem very likely that we are dealing with one family here. It was common at this time for people to leave the land and go into the new cotton industry, sometimes with only a few spindles or looms. (Power looms did not come in until the 1830s)

James can be identified as the son of John and Isabella Thornber, as Isabella's maiden name was Blakey and James used this as a middle name for one of his sons. James was baptised at Colne on 2 March 1777.  In this case we can see that the children John and Isabella were named after James's parents, Ann named after his wife and Henry Hartley Thornber has his mother's maiden name. Robert would be called after James's younger brother who died in 1805

We know that John and Isabella had moved from Colne to Manchester by 1810 from the burial of one of their daughters at St. Mary's, Gisburn when the family are said to be now resident in Manchester. They appear in Pigot's Directory of Manchester as linen drapers from 1813 with Isabella named in 1830 at the same address as John had been named in 1821. So from the time of Robert Thornber's birth in October 1810, John and Isabella were already living in Manchester, and if they were indeed his grandparents, may have provided opportunities for his employment as a youth in that growing town.

The ideas above are confirmed by news from Beverley Hammond and Lorraine Griffiths, both in Australia, received in 2006.  Both are descended from James Thornber and Ann Hartley, through a previously unknown daughter, Sarah, who emigrated to Australia.  Beverley has information giving birth details of 11 children as shown below.  James and Ann lived at Spout House near Colne. The first eight in the list were baptised at Colne.  Beverley also reports that the family moved to Market Street in Manchester, presumably some time after the baptism of Ann in 1813.

Mary Thornber born April 19th 1800 at 3 am
John Thornber March 4th 1802 at 12.45 am
Margaret July 19th 1804 at 3.45 am
Isabella May 29th 1806 at 8 am
James Blakey July 13th 1808 at 7.15 am
Henry Hartley July 13th 1808 at 7.30 am
Robert October 21st 1810 at 3 am
Ann May 9th 1813 at 11.20 am
Jane July 31st 1815 at 12.30 pm
Sarah December 11th 1817 at 6.45 pm
Ellen February 9th 1820 at 3.15 am

Beverley writes that Sarah was born 11 December 1817 and travelled to Australia on the Lady Raffles with the Wilson family.   They sailed on 13 May 1839, arriving in Sydney 12 September. She has a letter that Sarah wrote home to her family about the trip.  Sarah married Thomas Foster at St Phillip's Church, Sydney, 12 March 1842. Three children were born in Sydney, they then returned to England where three more were born , and came back to Australia , where a further three were born.  One of her daughters, Jane Foster, married Edmund Howard 20 May 1865. Sarah died 4 Jan. 1893

Lorraine reports that amongst Sarah's possessions was a British and Foreign Bible Society Holy Bible (1833) presented to her by her brother-in-law "Wm Holland" on 26th April, 1839 showing her address as No. 13 Market Street, Manchester. Searching my own data I find that Mary Thornber, spinster, married William Holland, bachelor and warehouseman, at St. Mary's Manchester on 2nd November 1825.  This may provide the clue as to where Jane, Sarah and Ellen were baptised.

Lorraine has copies of letters sent home by Sarah.  She wrote a long letter to her sister Isabella describing some features of the voyage and impressions of Sydney. It is thought she accompanied her employers, Mr. And Mrs. Charles Wilson "up the country", possibly to Parramatta, several months after her arrival.  She hoped to meet up with her brother Robert. (Sarah's granddaughter, Sarah Howard, often visited a Thornber family in Leichhardt during the early 1900's.) Sarah married Thomas Foster of Upper Clapton, London, in St. Phillip's Church, in the County of Cumberland, N. S. W. on the 12th. March 1842.

The fact that Sarah had sisters Isabella and Mary and a brother Robert who also emigrated to Australia provides adequate evidence that Robert was indeed the son of James and Ann Thornber of Colne and later of Manchester. 

In September 2006, Lorraine provided further information from a letter of 1891 that Mary Thornber, the eldest child of James and Ann Thornber, also migrated to Australia.  Census evidence shows that in 1841 William and Mary Holland lived with Mary, Phebe, John, Jane and Ann.  By 1851, William and Mary Holland were together with no other family in the house on the night of the census.  In 1853, Mary, then aged 53, travelled to Melbourne on the Abdalla.  She was accompanied by Mary Ann, aged 11, probably her daughter.  Lorraine has found a death record in Victoria in August 1863 for Mary Holland, aged 64 the daughter of John Thornbee (sic) and Annie Hartley.  In 1859, Mary Ann Holland married William Roper in Yackandandah. They had two children. He died in 1862. In 1863 Mary Ann Roper married Antonio Moglia and had 7 children between 1864 and 1888.

Mary's death certificate states that eight of her ten children were deceased, namely: Samuel, John, Mary Ann, Margaret, Jessie, Annie, Benjamin and Phoebe.  William (a sailor according to the 1851 census for Bishopwearmouth), aged 28, was perhaps at sea.  Mary Ann, aged 22, was recently widowed and living in Yackandandah near her mother.


Sarah Thornber

Sarah Foster born Thornber, an image sent by Beverley Hammond

5. New Information from Correspondents

In October 2007, I was contacted by Pru William with the following information relating to Margaret, the second daughter of James Thornber and Ann Hartley

I believe I may be descended from Margaret Thornber, born in 1804. If this is so then she married David Rowen, his first wife, and had a daughter Jane Hilton Rowan who lodged, along with her presumed brother John Oliver Rowen, with William and Mary Holland (aged 40) according to the 1841 census (mother had presumably died and father had remarried). Also there was Ann Thornber aged 25.  Jane married Ebenezer Syme, a Scot who became first an itinerant preacher and then a journalist. They emigrated to Australia and after writing for various Melbourne newspapers he purchased the Age Newspaper with his brother David. ES died in 1860 and David then went on to make the Age a power in Australia. Jane then has an eventful life back in England, briefly in the USA and then New Zealand..... I am descended through the third son of the marriage - Joseph Cowen Syme.

In February 2008, I was contacted by Brad Hewitson of Victoria in Australia.  He is the great great great grandson of Sarah Thornber.  She married Thomas Foster and had a daughter Emma, born 10 January 1854, who went on to marry Isaac Gledhill on 10 December 1872. Brad is descended from this line.

In March 2008, I was contacted by Marilyn Gould, who informs me that Sarah Foster nee Thornber was her great-great-grandmother. She is a great granddaughter of Isaac Gledhill and Emma (nee Foster).

In July 2009, I was contacted by Jennette Stephens from New South Wales who is also a descendent of Robert Thornber. She provided some additional information on her branch, starting with the Robert Thornber born in Adelaide in 1847, who married Mina Cook in generation 3 below. The new data has now been added to the chart below and identified with the initials JS.

6. Summary of the Family Tree

Henry Hartley Thornber moved to Manchester from Colne and it is of interest that he called one of his sons Robert.

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