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Sisters Amy and Bertha - Cared

One of the problems of researching the background of our Sisters is those who were born abroad, which was more common than you might initially think. M. Adele was born in Switzerland; the first Sr Margaret in Canada; and Sr Eileen in Malacca (Malaysia). In none of these cases can I find anything about their background. Another issue can be if my system for recording which Sisters I have written about breaks down, and am therefore in danger of telling you the story of the same Sister twice. I have a memory of writing about Sr Amy and Sr Bertha, but can find nothing. Therefore, at risk of repeating myself, I am going to tell you about them now.

 

Sr Amy and Sr Bertha were blood sisters who both joined the Community, and were unusual in that they didn’t use their baptismal names, which is normally expected. I am assuming that the Community had not finally decided how to handle the issue of Sisters joining who had the same name as other Sisters. It is confusing enough to have the same name repeated when one has died, it would be impossible if they were both alive. Sr Bertha’s birth name was Elizabeth; I can find no record of a middle name. We already had one Sr Elizabeth; the practice of either using a middle name or of using both first and middle names was not possible here, as there was only one name. To use the first name and add a chosen second is another possibility; but, for whatever reason, Elizabeth took the name Sr Bertha. Sr Amy did have more than one first name: Emily Julia Isobel, but she used none of these names, and was professed as Sr Amy. We did have a Sr Emily, but neither of her other names was used at that point; for whatever reason, she used a different name. Their surname also changed: the Sisters were the children of Daniel Larner Nicker and his first wife Elizabeth Anne/Anne Elizabeth (I’ve seen the names used both ways). The family later changed their name to Necker. This was after Sr Bertha had died, but both Sisters are down as ‘Necker’ in our Community register, and Sr Amy uses it in later Census data.

 

What was relatively easy, though, was finding out about their background, although they were born in India. Daniel, the son of a soldier, worked in India, mainly in the Post Office. He married Elizabeth Anne Redwood in 1845, and they had at least six children; sadly, three of them died as young babies. The oldest surviving sibling, Priscilla, married Alfred Bryson, a surveyor, in 1871; her father and both her sisters were the witnesses. At some point, their mother died, although I haven’t got a date of death. Daniel married again in 1874, to a younger woman, Elizabeth Vitters. Their oldest child, Eva, was born in Bombay in 1874. The Nickers seem then to have left India, as the next child, Ada, was born in Malta. The last two children, May and Henry, were both born in Dereham, Norfolk, where their father had family links, and had come to live. Elizabeth, Daniel’s second wife, died in 1878, also in Dereham. This may possibly be linked to Henry’s birth, which must have taken place around the same time, although this is a complete guess.

 

By 1881, a crisis took place in the family. Sr Bertha and Sr Amy were by then CAH Sisters, having been professed in 1879. They would have arrived around 1877, and may have joined us not long after the family reached Norfolk (assuming, of course, that they stayed with their father until that point). Their stepmother’s death had left their father, in his late 50s, responsible for the upbringing of his young second family. Except, by 1881, he was ill, and dying. Leaving the four younger children, all aged under 8, with no parents and little family except a grandfather, by then in his 90s, and their three half-sisters, one of whom was probably not resident in England. This rather left Sr Bertha and Sr Amy responsible for both their father in his illness and 4 young children. Thankfully, the Community supported their Sisters. Sr Amy and Sr Bertha were both allowed to go and care for their father, presumably until his death in 1881. Both had left responsible jobs, one in the Orphanage, the other in the Hospital. Sr Amy is most probably the author of an anonymous manuscript in our archives with memories of M. Lavinia, which mentions just this incident. It is this year, this census, which helped me identify them; both Sisters are registered at their father’s house, Elizabeth as ‘Sister of Mercy Hospital Ditchingham’ and Emily as ‘Sister of Mercy Orphanage Ditchingham’, proving their identity as Sr Bertha and Sr Amy.

 

What of the children? The three girls are found in the 1881 Census, resident at our Orphanage (pictured), where (as far as I know) they stayed to complete their education. Eva and Ada later became Associates of the Community, while working as teachers, in New Zealand at one point. May taught in India, but died young of peritonitis. Henry is found in 1881 as a boarder at our farm, along with a couple of other children, and three Sisters – one of whom, at least, presumably took care of the children. I assume Henry was later found a place somewhere to be cared for and educated. Initially, the children had their older half-Sisters nearby, who would have returned to Ditchingham after their father’s death. But for the girls, at least, the Orphanage provided them with a secure home. Much needed, as more loss was to come. Sr Bertha died age only 32 in 1887. By then Sr Amy was Sister in Charge of the Community’s work in Canada. But that is another story.

 

How did Daniel and his first wife deal with the death of their young babies? How did any of the children feel about the death of their mothers, and later their father? We cannot know. Their mourning and response may have been different in a different age, but these people were still loved and missed. At whatever age they died, their family needed to be able to mourn their loss. Does death seem a strange subject for Easter? Yet, in the certainty of resurrection hope, death still exists. There will come a time when there will be no more tears, but, for now, we, too, may have people we love and miss and mourn for. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. 



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