Volunteering as a transcriber with the Voices Through Time: The Story of Care project, has given me the opportunity to work alongside an ever-growing community of online volunteers from all walks of life and locations.

As volunteers we engage with each other, via the ‘Talk’ message Boards, raising questions, and sharing information. In doing so we are also able to take note of children who may be of specific interest for future research.

Recent transcriptions from the Foundling Hospital’s General Registers yielded a wealth of information regarding the Foundling pupils, from their date of admission to their final ‘outcome’ (i.e. death or apprenticeship). Sometimes additional information was recorded, acting like a signpost pointing towards a life beyond the Hospital.

The Foundling pupil who crossed the sea

Such was the case of Sophia Foster whose record was transcribed by fellow volunteer @HIstogeek and tagged as ‘emigrated’.[1]

As I live in Western Australia, my interest was piqued by Sophia’s life as a Foundling pupil and an immigrant. Some additional detective work helped me to piece together a snapshot of Sophia’s life and finally led me to her graveside in Sydney.

Born in March 1838, Sophia (not her birth name) was admitted to the Foundling Hospital on 26 May 1838. She was given the number 20021, renamed Sophia Foster and sent into the country to be nursed.[2]

At the age of three Sophia was living in Surrey with William and Mary Beauchamp at Lyne Grove, Chertsey. William (50), was an agricultural labourer and his wife Mary (51) was possibly Sophia’s original wet nurse. The Beauchamps had four children of their own and another Foundling pupil, five-year-old Richard Hopkins, was also being looked after by the family [3].

At around the age of five it was customary for Foundling pupils to be returned to the Hospital in order to be educated. The 1851 census return confirms Sophia as a 13-year-old scholar living in the Foundling Hospital.[4]

Shortly after her seventeenth birthday, on 22 April 1855, Sophia left the Hospital to be apprenticed and three years later is recorded as having emigrated – 25 January 1859.[5]

Immigration records, however, show that Sophia arrived in Sydney on 21 December 1858 aboard the Forest Monarch. She was described as a 20-year-old housemaid from Middlesex, who had been brought up by the Foundling Hospital in London and was able to read and write.[6]

Sophia sailed to Australia as a single woman under one of the many government schemes set up to encourage young women to emigrate to New South Wales.[7] During the 19th Century single women were needed in the colonies to become workers, wives and mothers. Female workers were especially needed in country areas.

Little is known of Sophia’s experiences upon arrival in the colony or where she was initially employed. In 1866 she married Richard Green a stockman from Bathurst.  Sophia died on 12 June 1926, aged 88 years old and is buried at the Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.[8]

During a recent visit to Sydney, I was able to visit the cemetery which is also known as the Rookwood Necropolis. It is the oldest and largest working cemetery in Australia, opened in 1837 and now covers 775 acres.

Armed with a plot reference and a map I walked in and out of burial plots both old and new. On a grassy slope amongst unmarked graves and small monuments I finally found Sophia.

Sophia’s headstone, which also pays tribute to other family members, solemnly records her age and date of death but is accompanied by three simple words:

‘Our Dear Mother’

Words can hardly describe how emotional it was to be able to stand beside the grave and acknowledge the Foundling pupil who had bravely made her way across the seas to a new life.

[1] General Registers (A/FH/A/09/002/001-006), Subject 53295002.
[2] General Registers, Subject 53295002.
[3] Census record for Sophia Foster, aged 3, Chertsey, Surrey, 1841 England and Wales Census, Ancestry.com accessed 20 March 2021.
[4]Census record for Sophia Foster, aged 13, St Pancras, London,1851 England and Wales Census, Ancestry.com accessed 20 March 2021.
[5] General Registers, Subject 53295002.
[6] New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828 – 1896 p.27, Ancestry.com accessed 20 March 2021.
[7] New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828 – 1896 p.8.
[8] Australia, Marriage Index 1788-1950, Ancestry.com accessed 21 March 2021; Australia & New Zealand, Find a Grave Index, 1800-current, Ancestry.co, accessed 21 March 2021.