James Coker and Emily Lee

By Warren Nunn

Teenagers James Thomas Coker and Emily Lee married at Barking, near London, England in 1858 and arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland 12 years later with their first six children, Jane (11), Emily (9), Ada (7), Leonard (5), Arthur (4) and Harry (2).

James Thomas Coker (bigger image) with six of the 10 children he and Emily Lee brought up in Rockhampton, Queensland. From left top are Emily Florence (married name Card), Ada Mary Anne (married name Goleby), Arthur (who was known as Shorty), Harry, James Martin and Albert Napier.

Over the next 15 years, Emily bore another nine children of whom four did not survive to adulthood.

James was the son of a wealthy family which had a successful business supplying shipping equipment.

Their chandlery was at Stepney near London's Thames River.

James's father William (1806-1851) and his grandfather who was also named William (1785-1852) built the business in the halcyon days when England's sailing ships ruled the seas.

His maternal grandfather Edward Lawson was a master mariner having risen from cabin boy in 1791 to a captain in 1803.

Capt Lawson was 38 years at sea and served on seven different vessels

After James's father and grandfather died within 12 months of each other in 1851-52, the Coker grandchildren were left a considerable fortune.

The details are in his grandfather's will which can be read here.

Where did the money go?

Whether James and his siblings got to collect the money and houses left them is unclear, but it seems unlikely.

About two years after her husband's death, Jane Lawson Coker remarried to John Stonehewer a family friend/business acquaintance who was previously married to Jane's late sister Lydia.

He was also one of the executors to William Coker junior's estate.

To Australia and back

Grave marker 172 at Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia where Emily Coker (nee Lee) is buried.

Emily Lee, James Thomas Coker's wife.

James's eldest brother William John Tyler Coker came to Australia and settled in Melbourne about 1853 where his first two children William and Elizabeth were born.

But he returned to England where he and wife Martha had another eight children.

James lived in Upper Glenmore, North Rockhampton, and seems to have migrated to Australia specifically to take up the role of Town Clerk for the North Rockhampton Borough Council.

He was to go off the rails significantly being convicted in 1890 for embezzling several hundred pounds of the council's money.

Read the full account here.

About 1904, there was a family split when Emily left James and moved to Perth, Western Australia with their two youngest sons Herbert Leslie and Archibald Lawson and apparently lived with eldest daughter, Jane.

Emily died in 1924 and her death certificate records that she was a nurse.

James died in 1920, aged 78, and was interred in the Coker family plot at the North Rockhampton cemetery.