Surlingham – A South Rivers Village: A Labour of Love

Jenny’s father, at his retirement party at the Norwich Union in 1981

Jenny’s father, at his retirement party at the Norwich Union in 1981 - Credit: Archant

A much-loved Norfolk man's labour of love work about his home village has been revised and updated by his daughter as a glowing tribute. By Richard Card

Surlingham - A South Rivers Village

Surlingham - A South Rivers Village - Credit: Archant

This is the story of Surlingham, a village set within the great horseshoe bend of the river Yare, just seven miles east of Norwich. Its history was painstakingly researched and recorded by Jack Points over many years. When Jack's younger daughter, Jenny, was a child growing up in Surlingham, one of her earliest memories is of her father returning home from work late on a Tuesday evening having spent a couple of hours at Norwich Library doing his 'Parish Research'. It was typical of him, she says, that over decades he kept up this routine with patience and good humour.

Jack retired from the Norwich Union in 1981, and straight away set out to organise his copious notes about Surlingham. He had written everything down in foolscap books and sorting out the information into any sort of order would have been impossible had it not been for the new Amstrad word processor, a pioneering home computer, complete with a Daisy Wheel printer. Finally, Jack's book, Surlingham A South Rivers Village, was published in 1990, just a year before he tragically died from a sudden heart attack. Jenny (now Jenny Riley) lives in Beccles and, aided by two friends, has revised and updated Jack's book. In a moving tribute to her father, she said: "It is only now, as I reach the same age, that I appreciate his depth of knowledge, his thoroughness of research and the style and accuracy of his writing. I can only imagine the patience and perseverance required to move all the information onto an early computer to make the book printable."

In the epilogue to the original book, her dad writes: "Those of you who have read so far will want to know why so little has been said about the 20th century. The problem as far as I am concerned with a project such as this is to know when to stop, but stop I must and so I leave the detail of Surlingham in more modern times for another day or to be recorded by someone else."

In the new book Jenny writes: "He would be amazed and possibly shocked to hear that, 30 years later, that someone is his younger daughter. I understand his problem - I had never intended this to be a lengthy project, but I have been amazed at the number of extra items I have found or been given. Knowing when to stop is a problem. In the end several sections have been edited so that the book does not become too cumbersome and to make more space for the new articles and pictures. I hope I have lived up to expectations and most of all I hope dad would be proud of me."

Jenny - sailing near Beccles

Jenny - sailing near Beccles - Credit: Archant

Having copied the original version digitally, it was possible for Jenny to edit and update his book, knowing that the original work is safe and available for all to read and research in the future. She has kept much of Jack's text but some careful editing has given space for new material, mostly contributed by Surlingham residents, and also photographs from Jack's extensive collection.

Typical of the human interest stories in Surlingham A South Rivers Village is the story of Susannah Holmes, an 18th Century Romance. Finding and writing this story was a highlight of Jack's research. His attention was brought to the story by a former inhabitant of Norwich who lived in Sydney. Jack discovered more information and wrote the story using evidence from official papers and notes on transportation. In 2000, a Surlingham villager found additional material which has been added to Jack's original story. The story is told more fully in the book but can be summarised as follows.

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Susannah Holmes was a Surlingham girl who was one of three Norfolk women sent from Norwich Castle in the first batch of convicts to be transported to Australia in 1787. Born in 1764, she was 19 years of age when she was convicted of theft from her employer at the Thetford assizes. She was sentenced to death, but was reprieved 'before the judge left the Town'. Susannah was then conveyed to the Castle Prison at Norwich. It was here that she met Henry Cable (later known as Kable, the name his descendants still use) from Laxfield in Suffolk. He was a fellow prisoner whose capital punishment for being involved in housebreaking had also resulted in a reprieve. The couple formed an attachment and their child, Henry Holmes, was born in prison in 1786.

Meanwhile Britain had decided to send their oversupply of convicts to a new colony to be established at Botany Bay. As the attachment between the parents was so strong, Jacob Preston of Beeston Hall, near Stalham, made representations to the MP for Great Yarmouth that they should be transported to the same place and this was agreed by the Home Secretary. The young family eventually sailed in May 1787. They arrived eight months and nine days later after leaving England, not in Botany Bay, which was found to be unsuitable, but at Port Jackson.

Fifteen days after their arrival, Henry and Susannah were at long last married along with four other convict couples in the first wedding celebrated in Australia. They all signed their names with an X indicating they were illiterate. Of the five couples married that day, only Henry and Susannah bore children who lived to maturity - leading some people to describe the Kable family as the first white family of Australia.

Henry Kable was one of the few trusted convicts and was appointed overseer of working gangs - a position he held until 1791 when he was promoted to constable, principal of the Night Watch. Promoted again in 1795 to chief constable, he became the first civil constable to be appointed in Australia.

In spite of terrible hardships in the ensuing years, Henry was given his first grant of land, even though his sentence had not expired. He built a small house in George St in what has become the thriving city of Sydney. The Kables continued to prosper and success followed success, making them one of the wealthiest families in the new settlement. Henry owned and operated a flour mill and bakery, he opened a hotel from which he ran Australia's first stagecoach service from Parramatta to Sydney and he was granted a total of 700 acres of land and purchased a further 250 acres. He entered into a partnership that owned a fleet of 25 ships and started trading across the Pacific.

Susannah died in 1825, aged 61, after a 'short but severe illness'. Henry outlived her by 21 years, dying aged 84. In 2014, 10 generations of Kables celebrated 250 years after Susannah's birth; she was voted as one of Australia's most influential historic figures. Thanks to Jack and Jenny, this new book gives the reader a detailed and varied picture of Broadland village life in this beautiful and unspoilt corner of Norfolk, from very early times and into the 21st century.

The revised and updated version of Surlingham A South Rivers Village is published by Bargate Press at a price of £14.99. It is on sale at Jarrold's Book Department and in other locations outside the City (including Beccles Bookshop). Any profits made by Jenny Riley from the sale of the book will be donated to St Mary's Church, Surlingham.

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