Emma Joan Brunel was three years and three days older than her illustrious brother, but whether by accident or design it is on the anniversary of her birthday, 6 April, rather than his, 9 April, that the rising sun penetrates right through Isambard’s wonderful Box Tunnel on the Great Western Railway. The publicity attaching to this circumstance, following a recent article in the national press – based itself on an article I wrote for Genealogists’ Magazine in 2016 – led me to speculate on the possibility that Emma Joan might have direct descendants still living.
Emma Joan Brunel married George Harrison, a widowed curate, and in 1844 when George was the incumbent of the parish of New Brentford (coincidentally, where I went to school…), she gave birth to her only child, John Harrison. John enjoyed a privileged upbringing, initially having a nurse and then a private tutor. He attended Magdalen Hall College, Oxford, but there is no evidence that he took his degree. There is also no evidence that he ever worked for his living; every census record that I have found records that he was living on ‘private means…’
Nevertheless, he did get married; in June 1868 he wed the 17-year-old Lucy Maria Elizabeth Tucker. Their children were:
Rosa Lucretia Brunel Harrison, born 1870
Mary Emma Lucy Brunel Harrison, born around 1884
Isambard Joseph Francis Brunel Harrison, born 7 Sep 1885
Josephine Brunel Hensleigh (or Hemsleigh) Harrison, born around 1889
The 14 year gap between the first and second children is odd, but Harrison's declaration in the 1911 census states that they had only four children and none that had died.
Of those children, Mary and Josephine died spinsters. Isambard was in America in 1918, although he did return to the UK and died in Wales in 1939. He was a bit of a mystery; in 1911 he is listed as a solicitor’s articled clerk in Brighton, but in 1918, he was working for a farmer in Minnesota. Did he go to America to avoid being called up? There is no indication that he ever married; his sister Josephine was awarded probate on his death. Rosa is the real mystery. There is no obvious record of a marriage or death, and she seems not to have been included on the civil registration lists for births. Possibly she emigrated; after 1891 she just disappears.
And that is as far as I have got. If there are any intrepid Harrison genealogists out there who can throw any light on the mysterious Rosa, I would be delighted to hear from them. Ditto anyone in the USA who has ever come across Isambard Harrison. If Rosa had children, then there is the possibility that Emma Joan Brunel’s descendants might be alive today.
Post amended 24 April 2020, on receipt of Emma Joan Brunel's will, and the discovery that her eldest grand-daughter's name was Rosa Lucretia Brunel Harrison.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs