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Anne Brooks' Ancestry



"The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of childhood into maturity".
Thomas Huxley

What skills lie hidden in your gene pool? Do you wish you could find a remarkable ancestor in your family tree? I mean aside from the simple fact that they were all remarkable simply because they are in your family tree? From what I know to date, I am not related to royalty; I have no ancestors who were responsible for creating a world wide solution to one of the many problems of their day, and thankfully, none who gained a reputation for creating harm to others. Mine were agricultural labourers, masons, seamen, and clerks. They seemed to live fairly normal lives as far as I can know from some of the bare bones I uncovered. Nevertheless I often wished to find one whose skills were unexpected and “outside the box”. This year I found him; in fact I found three!

My grandmother, Elizabeth FARLEY, was the fifth of ten children born to Walter FARLEY and Elizabeth GRIFFITHS. Her brother William Henry Albert was their first child, born on 10 May 1869 at Paddington, London. By 1881 the family had moved to Maidstone, Kent; and by 1891 William was boarding in Cheriton, Kent, described as a “wall artist” along with two others of the same occupation. The home was owned by a cab driver, and perhaps William's father, a cab driver himself, sent William there in the hopes he would find it a suitable occupation. It seems that was not to be.

  Will & Zanetta

  Trio in Rangoon

On November 16th, 1892, in Coventry, Warwickshire, William married Zanetta Fanny WILLMER in Coventry, Warwickshire. Their marriage certificate stated they were both "professional singers". Zanetta's name alone suggested creativity to me. She was the daughter of Charles WILLMER, a musician, and Emma VINER, who raised their family in Brighton, Sussex; descendants say all their children were musically inclined. By 1895 when their first son, Willie Frank, was born they were living in Lambeth, London; the baptism record stated Willie's father was an "acrobat". The family could not be found in the 1901 census, but in 1908 their second son, Leonard Harry, was born in Camberwell, Surrey. In 1911 they were living in Hull, Yorkshire with only their second son, deemed to be “variety artists”. I had no photographs and could not quite visualize exactly what their occupations entailed, and how they supported their family.

This year a great granddaughter of William and Zanetta recently shared photographs with a researcher, who, with permission, shared them with me. It seems that William and Zanetta, along with Zanetta's brother, Guy Leopold WILLMER, formed a trio, known as The Farley Trio. With the skills of musicians, acrobats, and comics, they first were a part of the Flying Jordans Vaudeville Company, and later evolved as their own travelling act. They travelled widely around the world in such places as India, Ceylon, Singapore, Siam, Burma, Java, and Australia. The upper photo on the right shows L-R, Will, Zanetta, and Guy; below is Guy. Both were taken in Rangoon, Burma.

  Farley Trio

  Guy Willmer

Described in Australian newspapers as “celebrated musical artists, in their humorous head and hand balancing acts”, they were well anticipated and enjoyed positive reviews. Their photograph here speaks volumes to their skill; descendants report it was Guy who was able to play the violin upside down while balancing on his head. If this isn't “out of the box”, at least in MY family tree, not much else could be!

What happened to them?

They seemingly had a successful career in the entertainment world for a number of years. William Farley died in 1917 in Birmingham, England; Zanetta married Charles Colven in 1924, dying in 1932 in London. Guy's family in England lost track of him after 1910. An article reporting missing family members appeared on 24 March 1929 in The Sunday Times, Perth, saying: "WILMORE or FARLEY (Guy Wilmore), late of the Farley Trio, who was last heard of living at Dorset road or Dorset street, Melbourne, about 1910". Whether or not his immediate family ever knew what happened to him is unknown.

In 1902 Guy Willmer was kept in quarantine on an island off Adelaide when smallpox was discovered on the ship he was on, and perhaps it was then that the trio got separated. Or, perhaps age caught up with them and they had to return to more normal occupations. Guy's decision to remain in Australia certainly would have impacted the group. It seems Guy had a relationship with Alice Eleanor Fitzroy Markey, nee Chilton, (1881-1947) and a son, Guy Charles Willmer Markey (later known at Guy Leopold) was born in 1904 in Melbourne. Guy Willmer did not marry Alice until much later in 1939; at that time his occupation was that of a "lift attendant". Guy was very difficult to trace because he changed his name to Guy Leopold about 1903, dying in Melbourne in 1954. It seems the only time he used the name Willmer was on his marriagage certificate; at his death his name was Leopold. One researcher has surmised the name change was devised to escape Alice's husband! His son, Guy Jr. married Catherine Hanson in Melbourne in 1925, but they had no children.

So, do I have acrobatic, musical and balancing skills in my gene pool? Possibly, but they haven't surfaced so far in my lifetime. Nevertheless, discovery of the Farley Trio was great fun, providing comic relief from the numerous farmers, sailors, and pedlars which populate my family tree and is most likely the best answer I will get in my search for an ancestor of fame.


Research of Guy Leopold Willmer by G. Constable.

Photos courtesy of J. Hart.