The Wenyon Line


The Name “Wenyon”


The name “Wenyon” was formerly “Onion”, a fairly common name in the Welsh-Staffordshire area of Britain, but equivalent names or derivatives are widespread in Europe. It was derived from sea-farers in the Middle Ages and later, who used to voyage up there from Spain to sell their onions to coastal peoples They were referred to as “Johnny Onions” and presumably one or more settled in Britain. An Onion compiled the Oxford Dictionary so somewhere some scholarly ability crept in to the genetic pool.


Understandably, people called Onions endured a certain amount of mirth and ridicule when the name was mentioned and on 21st May, 1979 the patriarch of the Welsh Onions, Samuel Onions, together with his family, including Edwin James petitioned to change their name to Wenyon.


Wenyon name change


The Wenyon Family


The Wenyon family were strict Methodists and Samuel Wenyon believed that any profession for his sons other than the Methodist ministry was not permissible. The elder son Charles Wenyon got round this ban by being ordained as a minister, then studied medicine to become a medical missionary.


Charles Wenyon led an adventurous life, being the first non-Russian to cross Siberia to China before the railway was built. He wrote a book about it, which has been reprinted recently. Charles’ mission was in China and he served there for a number of years, establishing the first Methodist Mission Hospital, until he had to flee for his life because of the Boxer Rebellion.


Medical missionary Charles Wenyon had a son, also Charles, who became an authority on tropical medicine after spending a period in North Africa and wrote a large tome “Medical Protozoology” which remained a standard text at least until 1949.


Edwin James Wenyon


Edwin James Wenyon, however, did not wish to enter the ministry. His father gave him no financial support and so Edwin had to work his way through medicine in London at Guy’s Hospital, with the help of some financial aid from scholarships. He graduated with B.A., B.Sc., M.D. and M.R.C.S. Degrees.


After a stint as House Surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, London, Edwin went to Dublin, where he studied at Rotunda Maternity College. At this stage he could have started on a specialist career, but the privations of his years of study as a financially very poor student took their toll on his health and he was advised to find a peaceful country practice. Never one to do things by halves he chose the post of medical officer at Sandy, on the very bleak Orkney Islands. On his way there, at the age of 38 he married Flora Agnes Fraser, 19 years old, on 30th September, 1890 at Hellensburg, Scotland.


 Flora Agnes Fraser


Flora Agnes Fraser was the daughter of an Edinburgh banker, born 1871. Her mother was the daughter of Fanny Lucy Fraser, whose father was Charles Macquarie, the brother of Lachlan Macquarie, former governer of New South Wales. Charles was an officer in the 42nd Foot Regiment. Neither of the Macquaries had sons and it appears this part of the clan died out, although there are Macquaries in the United States.


Thus Flora Agnes went to live in the bleak environment of the Orkney Islands. We can only guess at this distance what sort of life she lived, and no doubt greatly different from her previous existence (Appendix 1). There are no surviving letters except from a Mrs Rippingale in Toowoomba where she spent a part of her later life. Mrs. Rippingale remarked she had “an ungovernable temper” and tended to flee from difficult situations. After producing four children, Conrad, Rhoda, Flora and Winona in six years (a fifth, Edwin, born 1896, died as a baby) she had had enough and eloped to Calcutta with the Rev. Alex Morrison, parish minister at Orkney Islands. This affair may have been going on for some time. There is doubt about the parentage of Winona, as her birth was not registered, but there is a Louisa born in 1895, whose name could have been changed. Winona was certainly a real person and the fourth of the four children and a photograph of her at age 18 or 19 shows a close similarity to those of her siblings.


Edwin James Wenyon – divorce


Meanwhile, after the considerable scandal of Flora Agnes elopement with the Rev. Alex Morrison, Edwin James moved with his four children to Staffordshire, England. He divorced Flora Agnes in 1900 (Appendix 3) and found another young bride, his children’s nursemaid, Fanny Skellum, who was only 17 (he was 48). The menage moved to Dundee soon after and Aurora was born the same year. More births followed and the Flora Agnes’ children became increasingly hostile to their stepmother and Rhoda in particular nursed this hatred for the rest of her life, referring to her as “Old Nellie”, and describing her as being lazy, ignorant, treating her step-children badly and pinching drugs (probably opium) from the pharmacy. (However, Brian Wenyon, a descendant from the other part of the Wenyon line, said she lived with them during the final years of her life and remembers her as a very pleasant person.)


Flora Agnes Fraser – revisited


The purchase of the farm for William Gordon and Flora Fredrika at Crow’s Nest, near Toowoomba, was undoubtedly due to Flora Fredrika’s wish to renew relations with her mother. This turned out to be a cruel disillusionment as according to Flora Fredrika, Flora Agnes turned out to be thoroughly selfish and did not give two hoots for her children. (However, see letters from Mrs Rippingale, companion, to Flora F., 1938). Flora’s brother and sister could not believe this and relations became strained. Flora Agnes must have had a reasonable income (probably from her banker father) as she was able to travel and live independently. She was involved in a serious car smash in Sydney about 1930 and later suffered a stroke, which rendered her unable to speak. She died in 1935, aged 64.


There is a bit of a mystery about where she died. Mrs Rippingale’s letters indicate she probably died in Toowoomba and Flora F. said the same. The fact that the heirlooms, etc. went to her supports this. However, there is a grave of a Flora Agnes Dall in Dundee. Her embalmed body could have been shipped there, but that seems unlikely). Flora F. Dall was left some family heirlooms and framed photographs after her mother’s death in 1935. The latter were mostly of ancestral houses, later they got insect-eaten and were thrown out, but the heirlooms were a signet ring with the Macquarie crest of mailed fist and dagger (this confirms the truth of the Macquarie descent), a beautiful filigree crucifix, a gold locket and a cairngorm silver bracelet. Flora retained the last one (now in the hands of Patricia Dall) and the rest were divided between her brother and sisters.


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