A Burden Too Great To Bear!

One of my most heavily researched lines in my family tree is that of the Brumby Family. The Brumby’s are prolific and branches of the family can be traced globally and my research has taken me 6th and 7th cousins deep along that line. My Great Great Grandmother was a Brumby – Annie Brumby (1862-1925) and I never expected when I first began researching the Brumby line, the information I would find or the people I would meet along the way but I have become acquainted with many cousins who have assisted my research and shared their stories and the Brumby line has become a study all on it’s own full of trailblazers and pioneers who took the Brumby’s to America, Canada and Australia and remains easily the line I receive the most emails and questions about.

Annie Brumby (1862-1925) – where my Brumby journey began!

In the middle of all these Brumby’s is the story of one particular lady who married into the Brumby family and captured my attention because of the great burdens she bore upon her shoulders. Her story is not an uncommon one but stands out to me because of the sheer magnitude of loss and pain I feel this lady endured during her lifetime. I feel for her and when I looked into her story my heart bled for her and I wanted everyone to know and understand her bravery and courage. Her name is Leah Brumby.

Leah Brumby nee Lockley (1854-1910)

Leah Brumby was born Leah Lockley in the year 1854 in Cannock, Staffordshire, England and was the daughter of Henry Lockley, a bricklayer and his wife Jane Lawrence. Leah was the youngest of their nine children with five sisters and three brothers who had preceded her. She was baptized on 3 Mar 1854 at St Luke’s Church in Cannock. Very little is known of Leah during her life prior to her marriage into the Brumby family. She can be found on the 1861 England Census living with her older brother Abraham and his wife in West Dean, Gloucestershire and then she next appears as a 17 year old on the 1871 England Census living with her parents who were still in Cannock but that record does not state if Leah had taken up work of any nature. It was not very long after this at age 18 that she was married to Joseph Brumby, a man ten years her senior. He was one of nine children born to Robert Brown Brumby, a shoemaker, and Elizabeth Plumb. Born on 8 October 1843 he was an Engine Fitter at the time of his marriage to Leah on 8th May 1872 at St Peter’s Church in Walsall, Staffordshire.

Joseph Brumby (1843-1898)

Leah and Joseph start a family immediately and their first child, a son, is born in early 1873 and they name him George Henry Brumby.

George Henry Brumby (1873-1948)

It is from George that we see a branch of Canadian Brumby’s added to the family tree as he ultimately emigrates with his family to Saskatchewan, Canada.

Leah is then blessed to give birth to her first and only daughter on 2nd September 1874. Sadly Elizabeth only survives a little under 4 months when she is consumed by a congenital weakness and bronchitis, losing her life on the 28th December that same year. To lose a child is a sad and painful thing for anyone to have to go through but I always feel that to do so at a time of year when everyone else around you is in a spirit of celebration such as at Christmas or New year is particularly difficult.

I do not think that Leah would have had any time to grieve for her loss whatsoever as a year later she gave birth again to her third child, another son, named Joseph Brown Brumby who was born 29th October 1875.

Joseph Brown Brumby (1875-1953)

There is a brief period where Leah remains at home raising her 2 young boys before she falls pregnant a further 2 times in quick succession and gives birth to first Abraham Brumby on 5th February 1878 and then Albert Brumby on 23rd October 1879 but again sadly, neither of these boys survive very long. Abraham is lost to Whooping Cough on 2nd July 1879 just before Albert is born, who then develops pneumonia and dies on 16th March 1880, at not quite 5 months of age. I can’t begin to imagine how bereft Leah must have felt. She had known, raised and cared for her babies for some time before losing them and she must have felt an immeasurable grief to have lost three of her five children within just eight years of being married.

The evidence of Leah’s pain lies in the fact she was admitted in 1881 to Burntwood County Lunatic Asylum for depression. Burntwood Asylum later became known as St Matthew’s Hospital but at the time Leah was in residence there it was an Asylum for housing both long-term and short-stay patients. A work regime was very much part of the treatment program at the hospital and Leah would have been engaged in work in the laundry or the kitchen as well as needlework or general ward cleaning, I suppose the purpose being to keep patients busy and thinking about other matters that would hopefully lift them from their mental state to a place where they felt better able to cope with life’s challenges.

Postcard showing the main entrance to Burntwood Asylum

Leah was only here for a brief spell as by 1882, records show that Leah was once again back in the family home and giving birth to twin boys Frank and Charley Brumby. Frank dies on 10 May 1883, another child that succumbs to pneumonia and in that same year just after Frank’s death, Leah gives birth to her eighth and final child Tom Brumby who survives for only one month before dying from the same congenital weakness that affected Leah’s daughter and was exasperated by the birth itself. The surviving twin Charley dies on the 27th May 1886 aged just four from a form of tuberculosis.

Leah must be screaming inside as 1891 sees her back inside Burntwood Lunatic Asylum. Little is mentioned of Joseph’s state of mind as the father but the 1891 England Census gives a clue. Whilst his wife Leah is struggling to cope inside an institution, Joseph is found struggling on the outside. At this juncture he is declaring himself to be a widower and has employed a housekeeper to help maintain his home. I don’t know if this declaration was a momentary thing to avoid any further question as to the whereabouts of his wife or if Joseph really had given up on his marriage by this point but the pressure that these trials placed on the couple is evident and you can’t help but feel a desperate sadness for them both. It is not known how long Leah remained inside Burntwood on this occasion but she does not appear on another record with her husband again for he dies on the 20th April 1898, aged just 54 and Leah when she does come out of Burntwood is found living with her son George and his wife and child. Her other son Joseph is also living with them, as yet unmarried.

This is not yet the end of Leah’s story and unbelievably there is even more pain and disappointment for Leah to bear. As reported earlier, Leah’s eldest son George Henry Brumby takes the decision to move his family; which then consisted of his wife Mary and two sons and a daughter, his second daughter having also died in infancy prior to his emigration, permanently to Canada. They make this journey on 2nd May 1907 onboard SS Tunisian and Leah is travelling with them, it is assumed to emigrate with her family.

Leah Brumby’s travelling trunk
SS Tunisian – the ship that brought George Henry Brumby and his family to Canada in 1907

The family arrive in Montreal, Quebec on the 11th May 1907 but poor Leah never even leaves the ship. Notes made in the margin on passenger records mark Leah as being insane and having had some mental health episode on board the ship and so she is refused entry into Canada with her family and is deported back to England on the same ship that she travelled there on, only this time she makes the journey alone with her son remaining in Canada with his family. Once back in England Leah sees a return back to Bruntwood only this time it is as a long-stay patient. She remains in Bruntwood for the remainder of her life and dies 3 years later there on the 6th May 1910, aged 56 years. The cause of death is given as chronic melancholia and brain degeneration and is indicative of the trauma her mind had been made subject to throughout her adult life.

My heart aches for Leah. She was my 2nd cousin 4 times removed and hers is an all too familiar story of the pain of child loss and the lack of understanding and empathy surrounding mental health issues. To have borne those losses over and over again must have just broken Leah and she just never recovered from the great sadness that overwhelmed her.

For me, there is a glimmer of sunshine at the end of the story. As a woman of faith who believes that family experiences continue on into eternity and that death is not the end but the beginning of a continuing journey, I foresee a time where all these losses can be restored to Leah and can only imagine that the magnitude of joy that Leah will feel in that restoration will far exceed the magnitude of pain she experienced in mortality and when my time to take my own journey forward comes, I have a hope of meeting Leah and seeing her happy and at peace.

NOTE: I have to express thanks to those who shared images with me that have been used in this story. Many images that appear in my family tree have come from distant cousins and others more closely related to those whom I write about. Their kindness and generosity in sharing images enables a deeper connection to the names recorded and gives life to a story and so they are key in ensuring people are never forgotten and their memory is treasured. For this story I have to give particular mention to Philip Brumby, Janet Bryan and debdeb7 who are all my Brumby cousins and have an even closer connection to Leah than I do. 

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4 thoughts on “A Burden Too Great To Bear!

  1. Hi,

    I have just found this website and Joseph Brown Brumby is my great grandfather and Leah was my great great grandmother!! I still live in Cannock as the Brumby family come from my mothers side. Joseph Brown Brumby had 3 children, 2 sons and a daughter. His daughter was my grandmother (her twin sister died as an infant) and one of his sons emigrated to Canada also.

    Thank you so much for this website and can not wait to tell my mom.


    1. Thank you so much Hannah for your kind remarks – Leah’s story made such an impression on me and I hope I did her justice here. I will never forget her and I thank your mother whole-heartedly for her sharing the images that have brought Leah and her family to life for me.

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