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Whatever Happened to Sophia Jane Collits?

By Gai Muchamore

Looking for the Death of Sophia Jane COLLITS/DAVIS should have been a relatively easy process, without many surprises. What actually happened is that with every new discovery in tracing her life, the mystery deepened and I not only began looking for her death, but started tracing a totally separate line of life which originated from her husband Albert DAVIS, to try and solve the mystery of Sophia Jane herself.

Sophia Jane COLLITS was born on 11.6.1851 at Carcoar, third child and only daughter to James COLLITS and Sophia HIGGINS formerly FIELD. James COLLITS was the son of Pierce COLLITS and Mary HARDWICK. Pierce COLLITS arrived in Australia in 1801 as a convict, his wife Mary was granted land in the District of Evan and it is there that they lived for a while with their 2 daughters also from England. The family then later moved to Hartley and Pierce had his fir Inn. Sophia Higgins nee Field was the daughter of Edward FIELD and Elizabeth MITCHELL, who firstly married Thomas HIGGINS and when widowed then married James COLLITS.

Albert DAVIS was born on 13th May 1842 at Newtown to parents George and Elizabeth.

Sophia Jane COLLITS, at age 16 years and 8 months married Albert England DAVIS on the 23.2.1868 at Bandon. The wedding was held at her parents residence, with the permission of her father and mother, with witnesses W. Parker and Elizabeth Parker.

Sophia Jane and Albert's first (and possibly only) child was born on 24th February 1869 at Church Street, Forbes. They named her Elizabeth Sophia Davis and the informant on the certificate was her mother. Elizabeth's father, Albert, place of birth was given as Irishtown near Sydney. (Irishtown actually is now known as the Petersham/Newtown area of Sydney) The mother's maiden name was given as Sophia Jane COLLITS and her marriage date was given as 25.2.1868 Bandon River (Sophia was 2 days out in this date).

Elizabeth died that same year as her birth in 1869 at Forbes.

There first appeared to be no other record of Sophia Jane and Albert Davis until the year 1876 when a child was born to Albert England DAVIS and Sophia on the 1.7.1876 at Cooma. She was named Amelia. It was always understood that this Amelia was the child of our Sophia and Albert, however, with deeper research, facts started emerging that this did not ring true. Here starts the real mystery of Sophia Jane and Albert's somewhat double life, or more accurately - their "other" lives.

On Amelia's birth certificate her mother's name was indeed given as Sophia, bit it was stated as "Sophia formerly Payten, 31 years old and born Goulburn. The informant was Albert himself, and he gave their marriage date as 8.2.1868 Forbes and his own place of birth as England. There were also previously 2 males deceased (no mention of the girl Elizabeth Sophia). It was due to my search for the death of Sophia Jane Collits/Davis that made me look twice at the conflicting information given on this certificate, after all, it is a well known fact that wrong information is frequently given on Certificates and should not necessarily be taken to the letter (or date!). However, this time it just did not feel right, surely he would have known his wife's maiden name and really it didn't say maiden name, it stated "formerly" Payten.

The next step was to get Albert England Davis' death certificate to see if this would tell anything about Sophia. This certificate held even more surprises. He died on 23.8.1925 aged 83 at 36 Dumblaine Street, Camperdown. His son-in-law was the informant, W.A. Grenenger of Blackheath. Albert was buried at C of E Rookwood, born Lincolnshire England. There were 2 marriages mentioned. The first no information at all - the 2nd marriage to Margaret McKenzie at Sydney and married at the age of 77! Children by the marriages were - 1st marriage unknown, 2nd marriage (to Margaret) were: Amelia, Susan, Esther, James P. (living) and 1 male deceased.

At least here was the Amelia we had found earlier. It was important now to prove I had the same Albert England Davis that married my Sophia Jane in the first place, because his birth had now come up twice as England and once as Irishtown (Newtown). This was proven by another relative of mine who was roped into the intriguing search. Albert England Davis born 13.5.1842 at Newtown with parents George and Elizabeth was unquestionably the one and same who died Camperdown in 1925. He was buried in the same tombstone, sharing the section with his parents George and Elizabeth. So, had he gone through his second life telling his family he was not born here in Australia?

All of this proved interesting, but it was getting me no closer to finding my Sophia Jane. I had previously applied for many searches on death certificates with "no result" (a researchers worst nightmare). We have a photo of Sophia Jane which was taken on her 61st Birthday stating she was born on 11.6.1849 and the photo was taken on 11.6.1910, and stating that she was Mrs. Sophia Jane Davis, wife of Albert England Davis. This information could well have been placed on the photo many years later by a relative giving this information.

As I was getting nowhere with Sophia I thought I would at least trace Margaret McKenzie and try and solvle the obvious lie on Amelia's birth certificate. I found Margaret Paton born in 1845 at Goulburn and then in 1860 married Heeton (or Hector) McKenzie at Goulburn. I could not find the death of her husband. This then explained part of the information on Amelia's Birth Certificate, using her married name and his first wife's first name, Sophia, possibly to cover their tracks. The next surprise came when another relative came up with the Birth of a Sophia COLLITS, mother Sophia Jane COLLITS, father not named, born on 13.7.1871 at Bandon. This was definitely my Sophia Jane as the informant on the certificate was her own Mother, Sophia Collits (Higgins/Field) who also delivered the baby. Old Sophia Collits died some 8 days after the birth of her Granddaughter. Now the imagination is working overtime!

As Albert did not marry until the age of 77 (and stated widower) it was possible that they were waiting for Margaret's husband to die before marrying or even Sophia Jane herself if they had not divorced, as I could find no divorce between Sophia Jane and Albert England. There was one entry I had not pursued but now was the time to apply for yet another certificate. From the BDM CD ROM I found and applied for a marriage between Sophia COLLITS and Edward HEELAN in 1875 at Menindee. The answer was disappointing, as it was one of those certificates that had no birthplace and no parents information. Not to be beaten, I sent further letters and eventually heard back from the Charles Sturt University with the information I needed. The date of Marriage on this Certificate was 13th November 1875 Wilcannia, Darling River.

"Edward was a bachelor who was working as a carpenter. Sophia was a spinster, with no occupation listed. They were both listed as being "of full age". Edward's place of birth was Launceston, Tasmania. Sophia's place of birth is just listed as Sydney. Their place of residence is very hard to read as one letter is illegible. The name is WEINT(?)IGA….the property was situated on the Darling River. His parents were John Heelan, a wheelright and Mary Anne Murphy.

Her parents were James Collits, a squatter and Sophia Field."

So, our Sophia married again, but was she divorced? And what of the child Sophia had in 1871. "Weinteriga" is a pastoral property situated halfway between Menindee and Wilcannia on the Darling River. No doubt Edward was working on the property at the time of their marriage. Sophia listed herself as a Spinster. Did she just wipe her marriage to Albert England Davis? They must have separated shortly after the birth and death of their child in 1869. Albert Davis has been found in various places, Cooma 1876, Michalego (near Goulburn) in 1881 and in 1900 Camperdown. Who was the father to her illegitimate child Sophia born in 1871?

There is a Margaret Mary HEELAN born registered to ALFRED HEELAN and Sophia (formerly) Lottits (this surname is very hard to read and I have queried the BMD and they cannot verify what it actually is), born on 30th July, 1874 at ?Tathunga registration district Menindee. On Margaret Mary's Birth Certificate the father is given as Alfred Heelan, Labourer, age 24 years and born Sydney. The mother Sophia, is age 26 years and born Sydney. Their marriage is given as August 10th (no year) at Grenfell and no previous issue. The information was given by the Mother Sophia Heelan.

Margaret Maud Mary Heelan died on 20th February 1875 at ?Taltinga? Menindee. The Informant was Alfred E Heelan, father and Sophia COLLITS was her mother. So this proves that the above birth was indeed Sophia and Edward/Alfred's child despite the misleading information on her birth certificate.

I have not been able to find the death of my Sophia under ANY of her surnames - COLLITS, DAVIS or HEELAN. There is a Sophia Davis' death in 1913 at Petersham which is not our Sophia. There is also a death of Alfred Heelan in 1903 Wellington but he was only 18 years old.

Albert England did eventually marry the mother of his surviving children at the age of 77 years and Margaret at age 76. Even then, in 1920, they appeared to be living separate lives, he at Camperdown and Margaret living at Islington, Newcastle. Albert now gives his birthplace as Hilldyke England, with parents George Davis and Elizabeth Barington.

One day perhaps I will be able to lay Sophia Jane to rest, where oh where are you Sophia Jane??