Ernest Alfred Paulin: An Englishman on the Move

The image of the immigrant that predominates the literature is one of a person who moves from one place to another, and then that is it. However, many migrants were people who had moved a great deal before deciding to immigrate to another country, and who not necessarily stayed there after the migration was ‘finished.’ Here is a short biography of my great-grandfather, who was a man on the move.

Ernest Alfred Paulin was born on 22 July, 1864 in Henley-on-Thames, England. He was the third son, and fourth child of Frederick and Mary (Cutler) Paulin’s thirteen children. Frederick, at the time of Ernest’s birth, was a brewer at the Union Brewery, and owner of the Union Pub.

Paulin Family c1882, Birmingham

Ernest’s early childhood was a relatively stable one. He lived in the same community as his father’s family, and his maternal grandmother lived with him. His father’s business appears to have been successful. His paternal grandfather, George, was fast becoming a prominent member of Henley’s political and business community, retiring from his hairdressing business in the early 1860s, and serving on Henley’s council as treasurer then alderman.

It was in 1873 that the lives of Ernest and his siblings changed. From this point on, it could be said that the Paulin family was a family on the move. His father sold his brewery and pub in Henley-on-Thames and purchased the Anchor Brewery in Peckham. The Anchor’s previous owner was insolvent, so perhaps he got a bargain when he purchased it. But as it turns out, it was no bargain at all: by July 1874, Frederick had declared bankruptcy, owing his own father over £1500.

The family went on the move again, this time to the West Midlands. From the birth certificates of his younger siblings, Ernest and family lived in Tipton (1875), Gospel End (1879) and Acock’s Green (1879). The family then moved to Solihull in 1881. Frederick worked as a brewer until 1879, when he was listed as a merchant’s clerk and in 1881 as a clerk and an accountant.

Things remained unsettled for the family. While all outward appearances indicated a large and prosperous family, photographed at gentile leisure, and listed in the census as employing a household servant, the family was in a financial crunch. Another move was planned. The family began to leave Birmingham in March 1883. Frederick and George, Ernest’s older brothers, were the first to depart, moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba. At this time the city was considered one of the more important cities in Canada, and was heavily advertised in Birmingham papers as ‘the destination.’ The brothers spent a winter there before deciding to move further west, to Victoria, British Columbia.

Meanwhile, Ernest had met Emma Jane Jennings, the daughter of a Yardley pub owner, Thomas Jennings and his wife Emma (Newberry). They married the 9th of March 1886. A few days later, Ernest, Emma, his brother Herbert, and her sister Amy, were on their way to Victoria.

Ernest A Paulin c1890, Victoria, BC

To finance the rest of the family’s immigration to Victoria, Frederick Sr went to his father George in Henley-on-Thames, and arranged some assistance. According to a codicil to George’s will, dated June 1888, George purchased some stocks held by Frederick’s wife Mary, which she inherited in 1874. It stated that the value of these stocks, £840, would go to finance the family’s move. Should the value of the stocks not be at that level on George’s death, the difference was to be deducted from the Frederick’s inheritance. Hence the rest of the family, save the eldest daughter Louise, moved to Victoria that year. Frederick purchased the historic Tod House soon after.

Ernest, on his marriage license and his passenger papers, listed his occupation as an accountant, but while in Victoria he held several jobs. He was a reporter for the Standard newspaper, an accountant, and finally a bookkeeper for Matthew Richard and Tye, a job he held for several years.

On the personal front, Ernest’s family was growing. In October 1886, he and Emma welcomed their first child, Dorothy. She was joined by Harold in 1888, Irene in 1889, Gladys in 1891 and Grace in 1893. Dorothy died in 1887, and Gladys in 1892. Emma was not happy living in Victoria. Family narratives indicate that she did not get along with her in-laws, or more subtly, she did not like living so close to them. That she seems to have spent most of her time pregnant or tending small children might have contributed to her ennui. The loss of two of her daughters would not have been easy to bear. Family stories, once again, say that Emma left Victoria at least twice, with the children, necessitating Ernest to go after her. One of these trips can be confirmed. Emma and her three surviving children went back to England in 1896. Ernest followed.

Ernest Paulin family c1903, Birmingham

The family settled again in Birmingham, at Aston. There Emma and Ernest had three more children: Norman in 1897, Hilda in 1899 and Eric in 1900. Eric passed away the year of his birth. Ernest made his living in Birmingham first as an accountant, then as a commercial traveler; he also sold typewriters. In 1907 the family moved to Ilford, where Ernest continued to work as a typewriter salesman—a profession he still pursued after he moved the family to Leigh-on-Sea in 1911.

The family did not stay in Leigh-on-Sea for very long, however, returning to Ilford at the end of 1911. And this is where things get interesting. Family stories speak of Ernest having rescued a drowning man, and that this either exacerbated or brought on tuberculosis. No one is quite clear as to when or where this act of heroism took place, but most mark it as the beginning of the end.

Ernest went alone to Victoria in 1912. After ten weeks in British Columbia he was admitted to hospital, where he died on 21 November. He was buried at Oak Bay Cemetery in Victoria. His obituaries speak of the life he lead in Victoria in the 1890s, and the hope that his visit to the province would improve his health, but little of his life in England, or his family still living there.

Emma moved her family back to Birmingham, this time to Perry Barr. There she ran a drapery shop on Birchfield Road to support herself and her children. Canada and the Canadian relatives became a dim memory, and the moving had ended for Ernest’s family.

One thought on “Ernest Alfred Paulin: An Englishman on the Move

  1. Very interesting story on how emigration put stress on family life. The move to steam-powered ships made migration and return migration easier in the late 19th century. Great pictures too.


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