The ubiquitous family tree project has been sent home from primary school. Beyond the who’s who among the figurative branches, is the directive to provide interesting facts or lessons learnt from our forebears.
Unfortunately, I explain to my daughter, the, ‘older but wiser’ maxim has been misunderstood by these ancestors of ours. If there was a “How not to…” range of books on family dynamics, we’d have the market sewn up. A legacy of ineptitude, ill judgement and general bad luck has been variously recorded or retold….
I blame my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Butts, who got the ball rolling back in 1781 when she married Obadiah Ikin – a, none too bright, Shropshire soldier. I’m blaming her, because women should know better.
Obadiah enlisted in the 11th Light Dragoon Guards in 1785 and was discharged seven months later when it was discovered that he couldn’t actually ride a horse. Persuaded to enlist in the specially formed New South Wales Corps in 1789, he, Sarah and their seven children, boarded the Second Fleet convict transport Surprize, and sailed uncomfortably toward a new life.
So far, so good. The next recorded evidence of these familial forerunners to failure, was the court transcript of a trial involving a keg of rum stolen from outside Corporal Ikin’s hut. This not only establishes Obadiah as a bit of a squealer (the suspect was a fellow officer), but also cements the Ikin family’s enduring passion for alcohol. I note that my daughter is nodding a little too emphatically here.
Fast forward to 1794 and Obadiah has been granted acres of land at Lane Cove, Pyrmont and Bankstown. Sarah, the kids, and some four generations to come, should have been set up quite nicely. But what does Obadiah want with prime real estate when there is rum to be bought?
Sarah, realising that she had not married the sharpest tool in the shed, left Obadiah and the children, to hook up with a miller – proving that you can live by bread alone.
Great grandmother Rosina Zanoni, holidaying in Queenscliff in 1886, exceeded the boundaries of maidenly propriety with a fisherman called James, and gave birth to my grandfather some nine months later. This effectively ended a promising operatic career, to the disappointment of family and friends back in Genoa.
Grandmother Emily let us all down by quietly dying when my father was twelve. The mother of sons, she is pictured smiling sardonically at the centre of grainy family photographs. Her legacy is the enduring fear of abandonment that resonates inherently within each of us.
This fear is again realised in 1969 when my mother does a runner with the German bloke next-door. Apparently it was offensichtlich to everyone but my father, what had been going on under his nose.
Is it fate or destiny, when my husband and I separate exactly thirty years later? I advise my daughter that when you blame genes you’re really just blaming yourself. She tells me that she will never marry or have children.
While Sarah Butts would probably endorse this view, I still hope she changes her mind.