Breamlea, Victoria

Breamlea, Victoria

Friday, 9 October 2015

What's in a name?

If you haven't already gathered by now, my genealogical passion centres around the puzzle of one particular branch of my mother's family tree.

My great great great grandmother was born Elizabeth Armstrong in Adelaide, South Australia in 1842.  When Elizabeth was about 8, her father John Armstrong (a black African man) died. A year later, her mother Janet (a Scotswoman) married James Salter (an Englishman) and so Elizabeth's new surname was SALTER.

The new blended family moved to Chewton, Victoria shortly after the wedding, in early response to the goldrush in the Forest Creek area.

Elizabeth Salter grew up and married a miner, named Sims CUMIS.  Sims' birthplace is listed as the Cape of Good Hope, Sth. Africa, so he is also potentially dark skinned.  The couple married in 1864 in Chewton and over a period of ten years had five children; Robert, Louisa, Ellen, James and John.

All five children were given the surname of their father, (spelled either COMES or CUMMIS as per their birth certificates). The last child was born in 1875 with that name. But as the children grew, they rejected the CUMIS name and adopted different surnames, either Armstrong or Salter, their mother's maiden surnames. And despite their marriage and five children, Elizabeth was primarily known as Salter, not her married name of Cumis until the day she died.

In fact, at her death inquest in 1896 it is noted by witness Henry Matthews that:

                      I have seen the body now lying dead and identify it as that of Elizabeth Cummis otherwise known as Elizabeth Salter.  I have known her between 5 and 6 years.

Chewton policeman Constable Luke swears:

                    That at 2.21 pm today Elizibeth Comas, otherwise known as Elizibeth Salter, aged 50 years died in her hut at Chewton.

Her death is also reported in the local newspaper, the Mount Alexander Mail:

                     An old identity of Chewton, named Elizabeth Cumas, but better known as Elizabeth Salter, died suddenly at her hut on Sunday afternoon at 2.30 o'clock.

I have written previously about Elizabeth's different surnames in the article "Elizabeth gives me a headache."

Their children all reject the CUMIS name they were born with too.

Robert Armstrong Comes dismissed the Comes and became Robert Armstrong.  He married in Chewton, moved to Charlton in Victoria, and eventually moved his family to Queensland.

Louisa used the name Louisa Salter when she married in Geelong and one of her descendants is me. Her nickname was Blossom because of her dark skin.  Her married name was Louisa Clarke.

Ellen -we are still investigating and have no definite clues as to her  (see my previous blog on this search.) At this stage we theorise that she married and changed her name. Louisa's daughter was called Ellen.

James became James Salter Armstrong, moved to Kerang and served at Gallipoli and the Western Front in World War 1.  His nickname was "Snowy" in that ironical Australian way because of his dark skin. One of Robert's sons, named James after his uncle, sadly died at the Western Front.

John used the name Armstrong but his burial details in Cobram state: also known as George Saulter. Trying to find more details in Cobram.

 No-one knows what happened to Sims after the birth of his last child in 1875. We do know he also used the name William instead of Sims. We have no death certificate for him. Nothing. The puzzle is this: WHY did the wife and children of Sims Cummis reject his name?

Historically Yours,
Valerius Copernicus
Article identifier
Page identifier
APA citation
ITEMS OF NEWS. (1896, June 2). Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917), p. 2. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from
MLA citation
"ITEMS OF NEWS." Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917) 2 Jun 1896: 2. Web. 10 Oct 2015 <>.
Harvard/Australian citation
1896 'ITEMS OF NEWS.', Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917), 2 June, p. 2, viewed 10 October, 2015,
Wikipedia citation
{{cite news |url= |title=ITEMS OF NEWS. |newspaper=[[Mount Alexander Mail |Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917)]] |location=Vic. |date=2 June 1896 |accessdate=10 October 2015 |page=2 |publisher=National Library of Australia}}

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