While Harry Coker was Alex Dobbs’ natural father, he had no part to play in his upbringing.

Nevertheless, he was an interesting man who worked in the Mt Morgan gold mine alongside Charles Dobbs.

Harry Coker

Harry Coker,

Harry* Coker (1868-1924) and Emily Ellen Sophia Aldridge (1876-1970)

The Coker family in England had been publicans and, in later years, Emma Coker’s father, Henry Aldridge also managed pubs at Struck Oil and Bouldercombe – but Henry Aldridge is another story which can be read here.

Harry Coker kept secret from most of the family the fact that he had been previously married and divorced.
It is not so much an unsavoury story as a tragic one. In 1888, only a few weeks short of his 20th birthday, Harry married Frances Sugden who, not surprisingly, was pregnant.

On their marriage certificate, Harry’s age is given as 21; Frances was 15. She was the daughter of George Arthur Sugden, a butcher, and Sarah Ann Lloyd, who had died some time earlier.

Margaret Elizabeth Lloyd, who probably was Frances’ grandmother, was a witness to the marriage.

Harry and Frances had three children; George, James and Emily. As well as living on the Monal gold field at Norton, near Calliope, the Cokers also lived near Clermont and at Mary Creek near Anakie, probably following the gold and gems being mined in those places.

Emma Coker nee Aldridge

Emma Coker nee Aldridge.

In 1893, Frances left Harry taking the three children with her to Longreach. Three years later, she gave birth to a boy child by another man, John William Dare, who was a coach driver. This was the basis for divorce.

Frances, despite her tender age, must have been a considerably resilient woman considering she left her husband and took with her three very young children and moved to another part of Queensland. This was no easy task in 1893.

More questions could be raised than answered as to why she went to Longreach. It’s also not clear whether she went there straight after she left Harry. Whatever the answers, within three years she had met and had a child by another man.

By 1897, Harry had moved on to Mt Morgan. One of his workmates was Charles Dobbs who was newly married to Elizabeth Aldridge. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Helen (Nellie). It seems probable that Harry had also met Elizabeth’s younger sister, Emma, and the whole Aldridge family.

Harry and Frances went through the very painful and public process of divorce.

In 1901 Frances married Sydney Harold Robinson and died at Ipswich, Queensland, in 1923 aged 51.

Elizabeth Aldridge.

Elizabeth Dobbs (nee Aldridge).

What is known is that Harry’s sister, Jane and her husband Fred Lomas raised Henry and Frances’ daughter, Emily. Emily married George Harvey and apparently died when giving birth to their first child.

What became of George Coker is unclear but, according to Edna Sleaford (nee Coker), one of the boys changed his surname by deed poll. That proved to be correct as James took the surname Flynn and farmed at Yarwun near Gladstone in Central Queensland.

That part of his life behind him, Harry Coker married Emily Ellen Sophia Aldridge at the Methodist Manse, Mt Morgan in May, 1899. He was 30, she was 22.

In July the following year, their first child, Walter Frederick, arrived and the twins were born on June 30, 1901. Harry and Emma then faced a crisis as it was feared that both Emma and the twins would not survive.

Emma had blood poisoning and baby Edward, who was with a wet nurse, lived only five months. Meanwhile, Charles and Elizabeth cared for Alex who barely made it through those early weeks of life.

Then came the decision for Harry and Emma to  not raise Alex as their son.

More than a century later, it’s hard to imagine how a couple could give up a child – even to another family member – but it was a traumatic time.

Edna Coker

Edna Sleaford (nee Coker),

Harry and Emma’s daughter, Edna Sleaford, takes up the story:

“Mother was in hospital for three months that time, she had blood poisoning. Lizzie had Nellie. That was the condition that mother let Lizzie have Alex. She said you can keep him, but if you have another child, you have to give Alex back to me. But Aunt Lizzie never had another child, I think she had such a bad time with Nellie that she couldn’t have another child.”

While Elizabeth did not have other children, Emma had 11 in all, three of whom died as babies.

There’s no doubt Emma Coker was an incredibly strong individual and not just because she had so many children.

Her story starts in Logan Village, south of Brisbane in 1876, when she was born the second daughter of Henry Aldridge and Harriet Phillips.

At the time, Henry was a butcher in the area. The family moved a number of times around Queensland, Henry dividing his time between station hand work, gold mining and butchering.

Elizabeth was born in Maryborough, Edward at Charters Towers and Burt (Walter Burdekin) nearby at the Burdekin Weir.

In 1883, the Aldridge family went to England where Henry had come into an inheritance.

(The full story of the Aldridge family is told elsewhere).

In 1886, Emma had an accident and she had a leg amputated at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Later that year the family returned to Australia and settled in Mt Morgan where Henry took up gold mining.

One can only imagine how traumatic the amputation must have been for Emma. The fact that she survived such a radical procedure – the leg was taken off well above the knee – was obviously meant to be.

Edna Sleaford (nee Coker) recalls:

“She was a marvellous person that mother of ours. She could practically run with that crutch. They did make a leg for her at one time, it was steel, there were no light material in those days and she was only five stone in weight, she was only a little thing and she couldn’t carry a steel leg, it would make her unbalanced.  She had a little stump and there must have been a nerve exposed on that stump cause there was times – I remember one night she fell down in the kitchen – we couldn’t move her, we’d go to move her and she’d scream with pain and I remember Dr Talbot had to come out from Rockhampton to give her morphine so we could move her.”

*Baptised as Harry but is recorded as Henry in some documents.

NOTE: I’m happy for anyone to reproduce this information. It is my own work and I would appreciate a credit thus – Original work of Warren Nunn, oznunns.com.au