Our Matthew Fourro's Origins

Started by Peter Godbold on Tuesday, August 2, 2011


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8/2/2011 at 6:56 AM

I'd originally posted this back in April but Geni staff seem to keep moving things around and it seems to have lost it's connection to this Matthew FOURRO. Anyway, here it is again, and I'd welcome any family input to same:

This Matthew FOURRO b.1843 may have been the son of James (d.Oct 1848) and Mary Ann (d.Jul 1848), and may have been the elder sibling of James (b. 12Mar1846) and Elizabeth Ann (b.11dec1847}. This James and Mary Anne FOURRO lived in Bethnal Green, and the two children James and Elizabeth Ann were born in Bethnal Green.

In his turn, James FOURRO (d.1848) may have been the son of Matthew FOURRO and Elizabeth (nee WILLIAMS), m. 20Jul1817 in Stepney which is only 1.5km south of Bethnal Green. Assuming their children (if any) would have then been born in the 1817-1830 timeframe, a son could have been born abt. 1818, making him abt. 25 at the time of the younger Matthew's birth, 28 and 29 at births of the younger James and Elizabeth Ann's births, so this James certainly fits the time and place required of the younger Matthew's father.

It seems that GFather Matthew must have died before 1830, as GMother Elizabeth married George DOWNER on 6Jun1830 in Whitechapel, still in this same area of East London. This George DOWNER appears to have died before the 1851 census. This could explain why a 7-y.o. Matthew was living with his GMother Elizabeth DOWNER at 42 Edward Street in Mile End Old Town at the time of the 1851 Census. Perhaps the younger James and ELizabeth Ann died as infants following the death of their mother Mary Ann in 1848?

The high number of family deaths at early ages conforms with the general low life expectancy around the East End of London in the early to middle 1800's before the major civil engineering works of the latter part of the 19th C. which provided relatively clean water supplies and comprehensive, effective sewers to this and other urban areas of London. There was a major cholera epidemic in 1832 which claimed over 800 lives in the east End alone. A second epidemic peaked in 1848/49, said to have claimed more lives than the first, a total of over 55,000 in England as a whole. Further outbreaks followed in the 1850's up until the last major outbreak in 1866 which was largely confined to the areas of East London not yet on the new sewer network.

Any input to or criticism of these speculations is most welcome!

12/15/2011 at 7:51 PM

Surely this Matthew Fourro, born 1843 in Bethnal Green, is the one that married Mary Anne Denley, and emigrated to Australia in 1877, with three kiddies and one on the way (my grandfather) ? The house is still standing by the way, in I think 8(?) Wellington Place--anyway, it is in that terrace, facing a lot of post WW2 flats..

12/16/2011 at 10:37 AM

Hi, Robert! Yes indeed, that is the one. I was trying to trace the Fourro tree back from him, but there seems to be a bit of guesswork needed as the records are a bit sparse - at least the ones accessible from the 'Net.

If you'd like to collaborate and get access to the Fourro data which we have put into this Geni family tree so far, I'll invite you to join in, and we can pool the information available. There are quite a few of Matthew's descendants and relatives already part of this tree, and you'd be most welcome.


12/18/2011 at 6:33 PM

Hi Peter.
Thank you for your reply and offer. I'm not sure how Geni works, but I've just got their free 14 day trial. Your information was very interesting, and that remarriage to Downer by Elizabeth ne Wiliams certainly confuses things--we could all be descended from him, not the Fourros!

I don't really have the right kind of mind to follow family trees too far--the real demon for this kind of thing is my cousin, Roy Smith (son of Audrey nee Fourro), whose email address is:


He has assembled an awesome Fourro family history, with thousands of names of descendants and connections. He also got in contact with one of our Great Aunts just before she died in a Gold Coast nursing home a few years ago , and from there we got onto a book about the Denleys, one of whom married the later(born 1843) Matthew Fourro, who fathered my Grandfather, Joseph Simeon--I do get confused by the way they repeat first names over the generations.

I did put up a basic family tree a few days ago on geni, which I assume you will have access to? I notice my brother David was in one of your trees--but he hadn't added any of his siblings, or even his children! Maybe he gets as confused as me about family trees.

There is one mystery I'd really like cleared up, and perhaps we could do together. Noone seems to be able to trace the Fourros back beyond that 1817 marriage, and the elder Matthew's 1793 birth, with no birthplace given.

Was he born in France? What is the French connection? Were they Huguenots, as seems likely in that they all married in Protestant Churches? A persistent family story is that they fled France in something to do with the French Revolution, though which side they were on we don't know. Our Great Uncles tried to find out when they were all in France during the First World War, but they didn't find much out, except that the only surviving Fourros live in Burgundy, who seemed to know nothing about any of their lot migrating to England and thence Australia. So the trail has certainly gone cold, and French records seem harder to access than the English ones--and pre 1800 records aren't very good anywhere.

By the way, I liked your connection of the 19th C. deaths with the cholera epidemics, that was a good bit of historical sleuthing. We have a copy of the 1877 Fourro assisted passage--they had to cook their own food in steerage, and many of the other migrant children died on the voyage, with the only medical help our G-Grandmother Denley, who was a trained nurse and midwife. We have part of Matthew's journal (written in pure Cockney), and I'd say the earlier convict transports probably sailed under better conditions. That the Fourro children survived was down to Mary Ann being a great nurse--she was district midwife around the Parramatta and Hills district for many years.

I'm really more interested in the story side of all this than the family tree, though I realise the family tree bit is necessary to tie the stories to.

Let's see what we can do about cracking the French barrier.

all the best


. .

1/9/2012 at 5:04 AM

G'day, Bob,

Pleased to see you've taken up the collaboration invitation, so it will be interesting to try to explore the Fourro ancestry jointly. Yes, I have been able to access the family tree you put on Geni.

I wouldn't think there'd be much likelihood of any line of descent involving George DOWNER, Elizabeth FOURRO's second husband. Matthew Fourro (1843-1908) was listed in that 1851 Census living with Elizabeth under the FOURRO (FOURRA?) family name as her Grandson. He was obviously not George DOWNER's son in that case, and also as Elizabeth and George DOWNER married in June 1830, Matthew was not born until about the 13th year of that marriage. I'd think we can safely assume that he really was a FOURRO descendant.

Speaking of the history of Bethnal Green in the East End of London, one source says that "Huguenot immigration was a striking feature of the late 17th and 18th century." ('Bethnal Green: Settlement and Building to 1836', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green (1998), pp. 91-95. URL: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22743 Date accessed: 09 January 2012). It goes on to say that the main influx of Huguenot immigration to Bethnal Green came after Louis XIV of France, in 1685, revoked the protection given to the Huguenots almost 100 years previously by one of his predecessors, Henry IV. It seems that these immigrants were mainly artisans in the spinning, weaving and dying industries from Normandy and Picardy.

This emigration from France to Bethnal Green, and to other parts of England, to Ireland, North America and other countries, was driven by the penalties, discrimination, suppression, looting and killing that Louis forced upon the Huguenots under his "Edict of Fontainebleau". The worst atrocities against them had occurred during the 16th Century, so I suppose that, not surprisingly, when things turned bad at the end of the 17th Century, most decided that emigration ("Illegal Immigration", "queue jumping"?) was the best alternative. The WIkipedia article on the subject describes the late 17th, early 18th century arrivals as "the largest wave of immigration of a single community to Britain ever". It goes on to explain that while the countries receiving these refugees benefited enormously, France itself "did not fully recover for years" because of the loss of the skills, energy and population, and the damage to France's international standing. All this, of course, pre-dated the French Revolution by many years, which is not to deny that the FOURROs may well have left France in a later wave of emigration related to the Revolution.

The Huguenot refugees to England were allowed considerable freedom, and maintained their own customs and cultural institutions after arriving in England. This may explain why some Huguenot family names and birth, death and marriage data do not appear in the Internet sources as yet, and consequently why the FOURRO name only appears in BDM indexes when the older Matthew marries outside the community to Elizabeth WILLIAMS in St. Dunstans & All Saints Church at Stepney in 1817. Until 1837, of course, the sources of BDM data in Britain are mainly Church of England Parish records which are unlikely to contain data relating to Huguenot communities maintaining French language and culture.

There is a Huguenot Society of Australia (<http://www.huguenotsaustralia.org.au&gt;) which may be a source of information, but I've not been able to find anything which specifically relates to the FOURRO name yet. The Society gives an online Index of (Australian?) Huguenot Names, but the closest in this list is FOURIE. Perhaps FOURRO is an 18th or 19th Century Anglicisation or mutation of this? Their contact address is a PO Box in Newtown down in Sydney, but they have Chapters in other places.

The Queensland Chapter of this society gives a listing of research resources available at the Queensland State Library, including an interesting "Huguenot Surname Index" which would likely be more comprehensive than the one I've looked at on the website, but it is on microfiche so would need a visit to the State Library in Brisbane to research.

None of this throws any more light on the ancestral origins of our particular Matthew FOURRO, sadly, but it might point to other places to look if he indeed was a descendant of a refugee Huguenot family.

You mention an account of the FOURRO family's immigration to Australia. Is this shareable? I'm sure there are other cousins who may well be interested to read it.

Have you gleaned anything more on the family history since your last posting?

1/9/2012 at 5:08 AM

Sorry, the Huguenot Society of Australia link should have been:


1/10/2012 at 2:33 AM

Hi Peter

Part of the journal of the Fourro sea voyage on the immigrant ship 'La Hogue" is in a book on the Denley family (called "A clearing in the Forest"--it might even be on the Web somewhere) , with information supplied by Jean Anne Fourro, who was living until recently in a Nerang nursing home. When I find it I will scan it in and send it. It is only an excerpt but probably of the most interesting part, and the full diary (I believe) is in the possession of another cousin, Peter Martin, who lives in Canberra. I also have a copy of the full contract ticket--cost 5 pounds to ship a family of 5 to the colonies-which lists their rations, which they had to cook themselves. They left Plymouth for Sydney of the 20th day of August, 1877. Matthew, age 33, his wife Mary (nee Denley) aged 30, William, 3, James, 1, and Harry, I think just born. Mary''s brother was already in Sydney, at Botany. He was an interesting fellow--he had gone the the wilds of North America--Montana I think, as a missionary to the Indians, but seems to have gone native and married one of the Indians. He then returned to England with his wife and new family, and then emigrated to Australia, convincing Mary and Matthew to follow.. Our mother always said we had Red Indian relations, but I never believed her until we dug up this info. Matthew met Mary as a patient in Guys Hospital when he slipped on a banana skin and broke his leg while working at the West India Docks--he was a warehouseman there, and Mary, a country girl from Dursley in Glouicestershire, must have been trained by Florence Nightingale who was based in Guys. The Denleys were also proud of the fact that they were (and therefore we also are) descended from one of the Protestant martyrs put to death by Mary Tudor, and are in Fox's Book of Martyrs, complete with gruesome picture of his burning--there is a statue to him in Uxbridge, Middlesex.

I tried to check on the Huguenot connection when I was in London once--there is a French Church near Brick Lane, in the East End, but the records appear to have been moved somewhere else. I will now go through my files--and maybe contact cousin Roy the expert--and see what I can send.

all the best


1/16/2012 at 8:24 PM


I posted some excerpts from the Denley book with part of the Matthew Fourro diary to you today. Hope you find it interesting .


1/17/2012 at 5:50 AM

Thanks Bob. I'll look forward to getting that.


10/29/2016 at 5:51 PM


Long time since we last exchanged emails, but i have some new information that might shed some light on Fourro origins before the 1817 marriage. I had my DNA processed by Ancestry.com, and it showed 11% Iberian origin. As most of the rest was 'British', i can only assume that this came from the Fourro line. This answers part of the puzzle--why the name is not French, but more latino-southern European. As they were not Roman Catholic

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