James Ashmer Mullen TURNER>Alfred Robert TURNER>Eric Doull TURNER>Malcolm Eric TURNER First published 16 Aug 2014
James Ashmer Mullen TURNER was born in Jamaica, Long Island in New York, USA in the early 1830’s. When I discovered this fact (from his death certificate in New Zealand) I was stunned. Whilst researching the ancestors of maternal grandfather, Malcolm Turner, I was expecting a traditional New Zealand British Isles heritage to reveal itself. In fact, when I asked my grandfather about his family, “Scotland..maybe the Isle of Lewis” was what I got. Discovering a Yankee was a huge surprise, for everyone.
Despite his unusual middle names I haven’t uncovered any records that point to his birth or his family in New York. A quick review of New York history reveals that the family was in New York before the first major wave of European immigrants in the 1840s.
Jamaica Village was historically an important crossroads on Long Island. The township was established by the Dutch in 1656 and ceded to the English in 1664 who called it “Jameco” (or Yamecah) after the name they gave to the Native Americans that lived in the area. To add some context, at the time of James’ birth the American War of Independence had been over for 50 years. The first travellers on the Oregon Trail had moved slowly into the West and the forced relocation of Native Americans known as the Trail of Tears was under-way. The siege of the Alamo was on the horizon as was the global economic crisis of 1837.
In the 19th century Long Island was mainly rural and agricultural. New York was a distance away and was connected to Jamaica by the Kings ‘Highway’, based on an old Indian trail. The building of the Jamaica turnpike along with the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad company completing a line to Jamaica in 1832 (the first railroad on Long Island) opened up Jamaica to development. The 1940 census showed New York to be one of four states with more than one million residents. Jamaica had been long established and public education was available, so James probably would have received an education as a child.
James appears to have trained (or served) as an apprentice to a watchmaker in New York – he identifies himself as a watchmaker in all official documents during his lifetime. At this point in time, in England a watchmaking apprenticeship took about seven years and required membership of a guild, however there were no formal watchmaking guilds or societies in America at the time. He must have been dexterous and have had good eyesight. He was literate, as his signature shows, though for much of his life he signed his name without his initials.
From the birth certificates of two of his children (John Henry, 1859 and Anne Catherine,1862) we see that James (about 27) married Mary ROACHE (aged 24), a fellow native of New York, in 1857(2). Mary had previously been married to a Mr. Larkin and had a son William James LARKIN (born in 1852)(3). The photo of Mary below comes from her great grandson Barry Laurenson in New Zealand who tells of his grandmother Anne Catherine (1862-1934) hanging the picture of her mother above her bed.
At the time of their marriage in 1857 the California gold rush had come to a close. Talk of the impending Civil War (1861-1865) was heating up, while on the other side of the world there were gold rushes in Australia in New South Wales and Victoria. Opportunity beckoned, and the family of James, Mary and William travelled to Melbourne.