Elizabeth May Copeland
Elizabeth underdown nee copeland.jpg
Sex: Female
Birth: 2/10/1867 Donaghadee, Northern Ireland
Death: 4/5/1943 Parkside, South Australia
Father: Robert Copeland
Mother: Elizabeth Longridge
Spouse/Partner: Robert Underdown
Marriage: 13/12/1888 Adelaide, South Australia

Elizabeth was the eldest child of Robert Copeland and Elizabeth Longridge (sometimes spelt as Loughridge). Both her parents had come from Northern Ireland. Her father was a plasterer. Her siblings were Mary, Ellen, Samuel, Robert, Ellen Elizabeth Ann, John and James.

Elizabeth moved around frequently when she was a child, her sister Mary being born in Castlereagh in County Down, sister Ellen being born in County Antrim, and then her two brothers Samuel and Robert being born in Glasgow, Scotland. Why the family decided to move to Scotland has not been established.

The British Enterprise and Quarantine[edit | edit source]

In 1877, when Elizabeth was 10 years old, the family decided to leave Scotland and travel even further, this time to South Australia. The ship they chose to travel on was the SS "British Enterprise". The ship British Enterprise was built at Stockholm in 1876, being a three masted iron barque of 1694 tons with dimensions of 246 feet by 40.1 ft. wide by 23.9 ft. draft. British Enterprise was a very fast ship on the England to Australia run and in the last few years of her service she had the reputation for taking a life on almost every voyage.

The Certificate of Arrival for the British Enterprise gives the date of embarkation of emigrants from Plymouth, England as the 12th January 1877. There were more than 500 immigrants on board and a case of smallpox developed on board shortly after leaving England. The man died; his clothes were burned and the ship fumigated.

The date of arrival at Port Adelaide, South Australia as 4th April 1877, a voyage of 82 days. The ship had been riddled with disease during it's journey, including small-pox, measles, typhus and scarlatina. The assistant health officer, Richard Jagoe, refused to label her a 'clean ship' and placed it in quarantine; this action was confirmed by his superior, Dr Duncan. Yet because a quarantine station had yet to be established in the colony at the time, the health officer had some trouble enforcing the law of infected persons staying on the ship. The passengers, naturally, were much disappointed in being held in this manner in sight of their destination after a long voyage on a crowded ship and showed their displeasure with Mr Jagoe by pelting him with loaves of bread.

The SS British Enterprise

This forced the government of the day to charter several small vessels, and the infected passengers were divided up amongst all the boats. The children were transported to the "Fitzjames" accompanied by their mothers and, two months later, passengers began to comment 'strongly and adversely' on the situation. The health officers conversed with Captain Marshall Smith, a marine surveyor, whose ship, the "J.L. Hall", was in the Port River having partly discharged a cargo of coal.

He agreed to clean the vessel and proceed to the anchorage and take the married couples and their children on board. Two barques in port, the "Ashburton" and "Fleur de Maurice", were also chartered; they accommodated the single men and single women, respectively. After the immigrants had remained another month they were allowed to go ashore, that is, six months from the time they left London. This quarantine exercise was an expensive affair and cost about £8,000.

They had, in essence, created the first quarantine station on the fleet of boats. This appeared to have an effect at keeping the diseases off shore, with only a few isolated cases of small-pox in the vicinity of the dock reported. The concern was so great about the potenitla threat of infection that the incident was even reported in the Hawaiian Gazette newspaper. Whether or not the children of the Copeland family were infected by disease is unknown, but it should be noted that a death record for third daughter Ellen (who died before 1879 when another daughter baring her name was born) has not been located.

South Australia[edit | edit source]

It appears that the family moved around again the first few years of being in colony, including Adelaide, Brompton Park and Glanville. There is also evidence that they spent time at Birkinhead, as several of her siblings attended a school there. Elizabeth may have met her husband, Robert Underdown, while in the Birkinhead area.

Elizabeth married Robert on the 13th December 1888 at Adelaide in South Australia. They married at the residence of Reverand E.G. Day. Robert was the son of Thomas and Rachel Underdown(nee Harpur) and had been born in Portland Estate in South Australia. Only Robert's mother was alive when the couple married.

The couple initially set up home in Portland Estate (where Robert's mother lived and their first child was born), but by 1891 they were living in nearby Birkenhead.

Underdown's Corner[edit | edit source]

Underdown's Corner at Swigg Street, Birkenhead

In 1891, Robert began a grocer’s shop at Lot 11 Swigg Street, Birkenhead, South Australia. The grocer's shop was called Underdown's Corner.

According to South Australian directories, the shop was originally in Roberts name, but for the years 1893 to 1901, it was recorded under Elizabeth's name, and she was recorded as storekeeper. During this period, the Directories list Robert as living at Swigg Street, but his employment is as a driver. It may be that he was in charge of stocking and supplying the shop and local customers, while Elizabeth supervised the shop itself while he was out on rounds. The Directories begin to list the shop under Robert's name in 1903.

The shop also does not appear in local assessment books until 1901. Robert paid 23 pounds a year for the rates. There was also a house on this property and in 1901 it was occupied by William McArthur. Robert also had two other lots, number 9 and number 10. In 1901, Number 10 was occupied by William Peacock. The store was located on a small corner on the road following straight on from across from the Birkenhead Bridge. The store no longer stands.

Death of Husband[edit | edit source]

Robert died at only 40 years old of the effects of chronic nephritis in March 1917. According to his death certificate, he had suffered the condition for many years. Elizabeth would outlive him by 26 years.

The running of the shop at Underdown's corner passed to Elizabeth's eldest son William (known as Bill) upon Robert's death.

Later Years[edit | edit source]

Elizabeth was admitted to the Enfield Receiving House on 19/11/1940, as a result of a ‘Section 35’ from a doctor. She was transferred to Parkside Mental Hospital on 22/11/1940 after being re-classified as Section 37. She was 73 years old and this was reported as her first attack, having lasted 3 months. Her daughter Elizabeth Underdown admitted her, and gave her address as 12 Swigg Street, Birkinhead. The diagnosis from doctor A.J. Chandler was as follows:-

Elizabeth's admission record to the Parkside Mental Hospital.

“Patient gets attacks when she yells out loudly for no apparent reason – talks quite sensibly at times and quietly and then suddenly increases loudness of talking until she yells.”

Her medical examination on admission also indicated that she had a pre-disposition to cerebral arterial sclerosis, which may have caused the attacks. There was also a possible abdominal tumour, a tremor in both arms, and she was in poor nutrition. Her weight was 114¾ pounds, her height was 5 foot 2 inches tall, and she had a vertical scar from the outer corner of her eye. The doctor also noticed:-

“Typical senile dement. Memory for present and past events is most uncertain sometimes surprisingly accurate. Gross intellectual clouding even for simplest sums. Perception of objects accurate; orientation in place accurate; in time hopeless.”

An example of her signature was provided on her medical records. She remained institutionalized until her death in 1943. She and husband Robert are buried together at Cheltenham Cemetery, with three of their children.

Gravestone of Elizabeth in the Cheltenham Cemetery

Children[edit | edit source]

Name Birth Death
Children of Robert & Elizabeth Underdown

William George 13/11/1889
Portland Ward, South Australia
Birkenhead, South Australia

Robert John 6/5/1891
Birkenhead, South Australia
Largs Bay, South Australia

Rachel Harpur 5/2/1893
Birkenhead, South Australia
North Adelaide, South Australia

Thomas 1/11/1895
Birkenhead, South Australia
Golflands, South Australia

Walter James 21/3/1898
Birkenhead, South Australia
Hillcrest, South Australia

Elizabeth May 5/5/1900
Birkenhead, South Australia
Semaphore, South Australia

Harry Arthur 26/5/1904
Birkenhead, South Australia
Birkenhead, South Australia

References[edit | edit source]

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