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Sr Alice Louisa


I couldn’t find Sr Alice Louisa’s family.

Her parents, Robert and Harriet Rolfe, married in 1839, and in the 1841 census they, with their oldest child Henry, are living in Hempnall, a village in Norfolk, where Robert was the parish Priest. Alice Louisa was born in 1846, and Robert died after a short illness a few months later. Then I could find nothing about Harriet, Henry or Alice until Harriet’s death in 1880, where I was lucky enough to find the probate record. This showed that she had been living in the Cathedral Close in Norwich at the time of her death, as had another daughter, Frances. But not even Frances’ name could elicit more information. Could they have been living abroad? Well, possibly.

But I knew, from research about my family, that it might be that the information was not being found for one reason or another - I had been looking for family based in Mattishall in the 1851 and 1861 Census’, and I knew they were not abroad. In that case, I found them in Mattishall by finding other family members in the same place, and then simply going back and forwards through the census for Mattishall until I found them - Could I do the same for the Rolfe family? At least to check whether they had or had not been living in the Close in 1871? Except … I needed someone who was living in the Close to access those particular details, and the Rolfe family weren’t coming up. But I did know one person who would have been living there: the Deans of Norwich live in the Deanery in the Lower Close; and there is a record of who the Deans were – indeed, their names are memorialised in the Cathedral. Edward Meyrick Goulborn became Dean in 1866, therefore I tried searching for him.

I very firmly resisted all information that came up except the 1871 Census. (It was very tempting to check if the Cornwall information was linked to the Dean. But I suspect his story is already known, and I mustn’t let my wish to investigate carry me away). However, Edward Goulborn was indeed resident in the Deanery in 1871, and a few houses later I found them! Harriet Anne Rolfe, with her daughters Frances, Blanche and Alice, plus a cook and a housemaid. Harriet’s occupation is ‘annuitant’, so she did have some income from somewhere. Blanche was a daughter I hadn’t come across before, and I immediately searched her out. She came up in the 1861 Census, where she and Alice were staying with Jeremiah Cretikos (rector of Shelton, Norfolk) and his family.

This did not answer the question as to where the family were living between 1846 and 1871, so I went back a dean and searched for George Pellew, who was easy to find in 1841 (in the Close, but I didn’t want that year!), and I managed to find 1851, but not 1861. However, in 1851, Harriet Anne Rolfe was living in the Lower Close with her 5 children, aged between 5 and 10. In addition to those already mentioned, there was also another son, Frederick. All the children were being educated at home, with a governess, although I don’t know if this was so for the whole of their education, or whether they were sent to school as they got older.

This still left the question of whether Harriet had lived in the Close for all those years, or moved out and come back. The former seemed more likely, but I wanted to confirm it, if I could find Harriet in the 1861 Census. But for some reason, I couldn’t pin George Pellew down in 1861, so I had to go elsewhere.

The Hansell family had been long term friends of M. Lavinia’s; Lucy Hansell had been a regular correspondent of hers – and Lucy lived in the Upper Close, where thankfully I found her in 1861, shortly after finding Harriet and Frances, both still resident. So it seems that Harriet had moved to the Close after her husband’s death, and remained there until her own death many years later; that the children had all grown up there, and the younger ones, especially, may have remembered no other home. Whether they worshipped at the cathedral or not, I do not know; Harriet is buried at St Mark’s church in Lakenham, but I can only imagine that living in the shadow of the cathedral, and worshipping wherever they did go, would have formed Alice’s religious life. Links between the Community and the Cathedral and, possibly, a Parish Sister at St Mark’s well may explain Alice’s original link with us.

I think that all three girls lived with their mother until her death; certainly the probate record implies that Frances was resident in the Lower Close at the time. In 1881, Frances and Blanche are staying together, where Frances’ occupation is down as nurse, an occupation she seems to have followed until her death in 1911; Blanche goes on to lives with friends, having her own income; and in 1881, Alice is at the Community House [Convent] in Ditchingham as a Novice; she was professed in 1882, so it seems likely that she joined the Community sometime after her mother’s death. Did Frances and Alice wait until their mother was gone before pursuing their vocations? Blanche had her own income, so I assume that the other two daughters did also, although it may not have been much.

Following the family through the rest of their lives has been relatively easy, except for Frederick, who was a Solicitor’s assistant clerk in 1861, but after that I can find nothing definite. Henry is not to be found in 1861 at all, but that is explained by his death in 1863, in Madras, where he was an Ensign in the 9th regiment. I know this for a fact, because he died intestate, and the record of this mentions Harriet Anne Rolfe as his only next of kin. Blanche seems to have moved around, but always with the same friend – Caroline Ridding – and sometimes with Caroline’s sister and other friends. She died in a Nursing Home in Winchester in 1922.

But Sr Alice Louisa is not so easily found; there is no trace of her in 1891. Thankfully, Community records fill that gap. Sr Alice Louisa was abroad in 1891. In the mid-1880s, M. Lavinia had been asked to send some Sisters out to British Columbia by its’ Bishop to help the mission there. Sr Alice Louisa was one of the first three Sisters to go, and in 1901 she is still there, and I have even discovered her on the 1901 Canadian census. I’m not sure how long she stayed there, but she died in 1925, having spent over 40 years in the Community.

I don’t want to go into much detail about our work in Canada, as there isn’t really the space here. But it would have meant a long journey, and some tough living. Sr Alice Louisa travelled with Sr Amy, another Choir Sister who was the first Sister in Charge there, plus a lay Sister, Sr Elizabeth Ann. There is no likelihood that Sr Alice Louisa saw this as a possible move once she joined the Community, as Canada was our only work abroad, and hadn’t started when she joined us. Indeed, most of our work has been East Anglian, so she may not have anticipated leaving Norfolk. She may not have wanted to. But a life given to God, is a life given to God, and takes us sometimes along strange ways and unknown paths. Whatever her feelings (and given that her brother had gone abroad, only to die there, her feelings may have been mixed), she, along with the other two Sisters, left all they had known and followed where their God led them. Are we prepared to do the same?

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