Behind the headstones in a graveyard are many stories, most forgotten and beyond recall. There is a headstone in Bosley St Mary's Church yard, near the path as you walk from the Church to the main gate. "Asleep in Jesus; M H Brassington, Wesleyan Minister, Queensland; died 10th March 1894, in his 26th year".
I have often wondered what his story was. None of the local Methodist families [who go back several generations] seemed to know anything about him. I presumed he was a bachelor with a local connection who had died in his prime.
A few weeks ago we had a surprise email, via the Circuit Office, from his great grandson, Mark Greenwood, who has been researching his ancestors. M H Brassington certainly had a story! The following is an abridged version of what Mark could tell us.
MH (Harry) Brassington was the youngest of 11 children. The family lived beside Bosley Works when it was a corn mill. They were Wesleyan Methodists and worshipped at the Chapel at Bosley Works. Harry found his mission at Rushton Chapel where he and his elder brother, Thomas, became enthusiastic preachers.
In the late 1880s, first Thomas, then Harry, emigrated to Australia. Both became Methodist ministers. At first, they were based at Gympie in Queensland (more than 100 miles north of Brisbane), a gold rush town and not a place for the faint-hearted to preach the Gospel!
Queensland Methodists had not set up formal training for ministers, so Harry, at the age of just 20 years, was thrown in at the deep end. He must have risen to the challenge because when he moved on just two years later, the Gympie Times reported "The Rev. M. H. Brassington delivered his farewell sermons on Sunday, the churches being well filled on both occasions."
He moved to Charters Towers, another gold rush town, more than 600 miles further north in Queensland. Here he met the intimidating head teacher of the Girls School, Martha Hustwick. An unlikely close relationship formed. Sadly, by then the local Methodist newspaper reported: "The Rev. M. H. Brassington, of Charters Towers, is seriously ill with an infection of the lungs", i.e. TB.
Yet, in May 1893 Martha married Harry, despite the fact that he was ten years her junior and had no money. More than that, the education department forbade married women from teaching, so marrying Harry would also end her career. Martha woud have been well aware of the likely outcome of Harry’s illness: that her marriage would be short and that she would be left a widow.
Just two months after their wedding, in 1893, Harry and Martha boarded ship to come back home, by which time she was pregnant. They were hoping that a cure for TB might be found in England but when they took medical advice in London any hopes of a cure were dashed. The couple came back to Rushton, and moved in with Harry's sister, Elizabeth, at Fir Tree Farm.
In February 1894 Harry’s daughter, Hilda May, was born. Any celebrations over baby and mother surviving the rigours of childbirth would be tempered by the fact that Harry must have been very ill by then. The inevitable conclusion came on 10th March 1894. Less than a year after he had married Martha and a month after his daughter Hilda had been born, Harry died aged just 25. Martha buried him in Bosley churchyard and returned to Durham to live with her family.
Harry managed to pack a great deal into his brief life. He became a Methodist preacher in his teens, travelled across the world to an unknown continent, became a Methodist Minister in a Gold Rush town, spreading the "Good news of the Gospel" in the John Wesley spirit. As a young, idealistic, earnest minister he worked to bring a moral and spiritual life to mining communities in Australia, surely one of the toughest audiences in the world.
[Adapted from an article by Mark Greenwood]