It’s a peculiarity of genetics that siblings often inherit quite different genes. William Grisdale had a Bolton-born father and a half-Indian mother. He obviously got his mother’s family’s colour because his is repeatedly called, rather endearingly, a ‘coloured’ or a ‘half-caste’ in the many records of his criminal activity in Australia. I wrote of William’s father, ex-soldier Thomas, in two previous articles: A Hussar in India – Thomas Grisdale and Thomas Grisdale in Melbourne – digging for gold and lugging coal. Here I’ll try to say something about his son William; what became of him? He was a bit of a wayward lad and I’m sure I wouldn’t like him if I met him, but he was after all an Australian!
William was born in 1852 in Bangalore, India. He was the third child of Private Thomas Grisdale of the 15th Hussars and his half-Indian wife Mary Cartwright. He arrived in Melbourne with his family aboard the ship Strathfieldsaye in 1853. About his early years we know little, except that he was without doubt with his family during the years spent in the gold diggings in and around Heathcote, Victoria. He would also later have lived with his parents and siblings when the family moved back to Melbourne.
At some time during his youth William became a ‘ward’ of court. In his case this probably means he was put in a Reformatory School for offences committed while still a minor. But the first time we find him in newspaper records is in 1873 in the Geelong Advertiser:
Monday 28 July 1873
Pugilism.—Three men, named Grisdale, Reilly, and McFarlane, were summoned for fighting in the streets. They had been turned out of the Buck’s Head. They pleaded guilty, and Keilly, who bad been previously convicted, was fined 20s and costs, the others 5s and costs.
Then in 1874 he appeared in Drysdale court to testify in a case involving his father. The Melbourne Argus reported on Friday 23 January 1874:
DRYSDALE POLICE COURT.
Drunkenness and Obscene Language. Police v Collins.—Superintendent Furnell appeared to prosecute, and Mr McCormick for the defence. Defendant was summoned for allowing’drunkenness in his house, and for using obscene language. Thos. Grisdale said he was at defendant’s house on the night of the 24th December, there were a lot of people there; some drunk and some sober. Defendant said to me, “Your son got me fined £5 on one occasion”, and also called him some names. “He offered to fight me for £5, John Davis said-I was at the hotel on the night of the 24th ult. Butlerand Davis were there; they were prettywell on. I remember the constable coming there, but I do not recollect what he said. I heard the words complained of,”
William Grisdale—I am son of the first witness. I went to Collins on the 25th and asked him what be had said about me the night before. Collins said he was drunk, and did not know what he said, and wished to let the matter drop. The case as far as permitting drunkenness was not pressed farther, nor was evidence called as to the use of obscene language. Constable Muloahy—I was on duty on the night of the 24th. I heard Collins tell Grisdade that his son had caused him be fined £5, and offered to fight either him or his son for £5, at the same time calling him disgraceful names. Cross examined — I am not bringing these cases merely for the purpose of taking away his license. Collins told me he had been to Melbourne to try and get me removed, but did not succeed, and would go to Geelong. I asked him to give me time to bring these cases against him. Mr McCormick objected to tho wording of the summons, but this objection was overruled. Tho charge of allowing dancing was proceeded with. MrMcCormick contended that the bonch, as a Court of Petty Sessions, had no jurisdiction, it must be brought before the Licensing Magistrates. Objection allowed. Pined 40s and 30s costs.
In 1878 William married Elizabeth Corfield in Melbourne. Their son, christened William James, was born the next year but died. Elizabeth herself was also soon to die; in 1881 aged just 22 in the Benevolent Asylum in in Hotham, North Melbourne. The Argus reported on Friday 26 August 1881 :
THE BENEVOLENT ASYLUM
Eliza Grisdale, native of Hotham, aged 22 years on the 23rd, from phthisis, a patient for six months.
Phthisis was Tuberculosis, often called Consumption.
Benevolent Asylum, Hotham, North Melbourne
William then starts to appear quite regularly in the Melbourne newspapers, and not for good reasons. On 24 September 1881, just after his wife had died, the Argus reported :
A considerable portion of last Thursday’s sitting of the Sandridge Court was taken up by the investigation of an impudent case of hotel robbery. The prisoner, who gave the name of William Grisdale, entered the Southern Cross Hotel, in Inglis street, on the 15th inst, accompanied by a man named Mullinger. They called for drinks, which were supplied to them by the barmaid, and for which they paid. The prisoner then asked for biscuits and matches, and while the girl temporarily quitted the bar to procure them, he leaned over the counter, and was in the act of abstracting the till, containing £1.12s. 6d, when she returned. He at once ran out of the hotel, but after running some distance was stopped by two young men whose attention was attracted by the cry of ‘Stop thief.’ After a violent struggle the prisoner got away from the young men, but was eventually arrested on a warrant by Constable Good. These facts were proved by the evidence of the barmaid, Mullinger, and the arresting constable, and the prisoner, who had frequently been before the court, and had only just completed a term of imprisonment for an assault, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.
So William wasn’t new to the courts; he ‘had frequently been before the court, and had only just completed a term of imprisonment for an assault’.
The Argus , Thursday 27 January 1881:
A most disgraceful case of assault came under the notice of the Emerald Hill Bench on Wednesday, when a coloured man named William Grisdale was charged with unlawfully assaulting a woman named Elizabeth Noon on the 11th inst. The prosecutrix stated that on the above date she was sitting in her house in Boundary street when the prisoner deliberately burst open the door and after trying to commit a criminal offence he assaulted her in a moat cowardly manner. The medical evidence showed that the prosecutrix had been subjected to very severe ill usage. Constable Stewart stated that since the assault took place the prisoner was arrested on two other similar charges – one for assaulting a young woman at Tootscray, for which he was bound over to keep the peace for six months, and the other for an assault on his wife, for which he received two months imprisonment. On the present charge the prisoner received six months, cumulative on the former sentences.
So William battered his wife as well as assaulted other women.
Then on 11 May 1882 we read:
At the City Court on Wednesday, before Mr Call, P M, and a bench of magistrates, two wharf loafers, named James Sullivan and William Grisdale, were charged on remand with feloniously stealing two silk dresses and other articles, valued at £50, the property of John William Parkin, from Cole’s Bond, on the 28th of February last. The evidence for the prosecution was to the effect that on the date in question Mr. Parkin arrived from Adelaide, and placed eight cases containing wearing apparel and household linen and pictures, in Cole’s Bond for security. One case was placed in the open shed in the yard, and the others in the locked bond. About a week afterwards the case in the shed was found to have been broken open and the contents stolen. On the 8th of March last the two prisoners brought some of the stolen goods ma bundle to the restaurant of John Williams, in King street, where they occasionally took their meals, and offered them for sale.
The prisoner Grisdale stated that the apparel belonged to his wife, and Williams bought a lavender silk dress, a black silk polonaise and skirt, a black satin skirt, a black silk body, two black cloth jackets, a black cloth dolman jacket, a print costume and Indian worked muslin skirts, for £2 15s. On the 21st March the prisoner Grisdale pawned two velvet polonaises, a part of the stolen property, at the shop of Elizabeth Davenport at Sandridge for 5s. Detectives Wilson and Brown arrested the prisoner Sullivan on the 27th ult, when he stated that he found the stolen property in Flinders street one night and Detective Mahony arrested Grisdale the same evening, and he said the things had been given to him by a man whom he did not know, and he subsequently identified Sullivan as the man. The Bench committed the prisoners for trial at the Central Criminal Court on the 15th next.
Port Melbourne Docks
And on the 15th May:
James Sullivan and William Grisdale were charged with stealing wearing apparel. The second count was feloniously receiving. On the 28th February some cases of luggage, the property of John William Parkin, a passenger from Adelaide, were placed in Cole’s bond. A day or two afterwards one of the cases was found broken open, and most of the contents, which were valued at £30, stolen. Subsequently Sullivan sold a portion of the goods to a Mrs Williams, wife of coloured restaurant keeper, in West Melbourne, for £2 15s. He told her that the clothing belonged to his wife, who had been dead seven years. The story being doubted he called Grisdale, who confirmed it. Some other articles in the list were found at a pawn office. Detectives Mahoney and Wilson arrested the prisoners, who had given various accounts of how they came possessed of the goods.
The prisoners in their defence alleged that Sullivan found the apparel in a bag in Flinders street, and not finding it advertised, sold it. The jury found the prisoners guilty of feloniously receiving. Grisdale was recommended to mercy on the ground that he had been the tool of Sullivan
Five previous convictions (for assault and larceny)) were proved against Grisdale, and one for larceny against Sullivan. Sullivan was sentenced to 14 months’ and Grisdale to l8 months’ imprisonment. His Honour stated that had the prisoners been before him for the first time he should have sentenced each of them to a year’s imprisonment, but he added two and six months’ imprisonment respectively to the term on account of the former convictions
Two years later, probably not long after getting out of prison, William was back in the Melbourne Court. In January 1884:
At the South Melbourne Court yesterday, before Messrs Stead, Foote, and Dr Barker, J P s, two young men named William Whitten and William Grisdale, who had been both frequently convicted were charged by the police with being rogues and vagabonds and also with the larceny of boot Mrs Goodwill, the proprietress of a boot shop m Thistlethwaite-street, stated that three pairs of boots had been taken from her place through a hole made in the window the prisoners were seen by other witnesses close to the shop early on the morning of the robbery, and it was proved that Grisdale pawned a pair of the stolen boots with Mr J Solomon, a pawnbroker at the corner of King and Collins streets. Both prisoners pleaded for a lenient sentence on the ground that they intended to reform and leave the colony. The Bench pointed out, however, that they had already neglected their chances, and they accordingly sentenced both men to 12 months imprisonment, with hard labour.
So back to prison and hard labour. But on his release William is soon back in court. The Argus 8th September 1886:
At the City Court on Tuesday, Walter Middleton, a cook, aged 25, was charged with having stolen a small black bag containing papers, &c., from Mr. Alfred Shaw, who arrived from Adelaide on Monday. The bag in question had been left with a port-manteau and an overcoat in the pantry at Hosie’s Cafe, Flinders-street, but when Mr. Shaw called again for it the barman could not find it. Inquiries were made concerning the bag, and the porter said he had seen the prisoner take it away. Middleton was then standing outside the hotel without the bag, and was given into the custody of Constable Davidson. He was sent to gaol for three months.
William Grisdale, a companion of the prisoner Middleton mentioned in the last case, was charged at the same court with having broken a window, valued at 15s., the property of Mr. George Feeney, landlord of the Holyhead Hotel, Flinders-street. Mr. Moloney prosecuted. Mr. Feeney stated that the prisoner and Middleton, who had only just been discharged from gaol, went to his hotel on Monday after-noon, and Grisdale deliberately pushed Middleton through his window. Witness stood in the doorway to prevent Grisdale escaping until a constable came, but was struck by him. They struggled, and with the assistance of a man, who was in the bar, Grisdale was detained until Constable Ross arrived. The prisoner was fined 20s., with40s. costs, in default one month’s imprisonment.
Then in 1887 ‘half-caste’ William Grisdale made an appearance in the Melbourne court in 1887 charged with accosting a woman and demanding money.
But what did the ‘wharf loafer’ William Grisdale do later? He certainly disappears from the Melbourne records. At some point he headed out west to Western Australia where he was again in trouble.
The West Australian (Perth) reported on Wednesday 2 December 1896:
ESCAPE OF PRISONERS AT GERALDTON. RUNAWAYS STILL AT LIBERTY. Geraldton, December 1. Yesterday afternoon a prison gang, consisting of about thirty men, were at work at the quarries at Greenough Road, Geraldton, and shortly before it was time to return to gaol two of their number managed to escape the vigilance of the warder in charge. As soon as they were missed, the police were communicated with, but it was some little time before they received information. When they did so, Constables Conroy and Pollet were immediately despatched on horseback in full pursuit. The names of the men who have levanted are Grisdale and Sutcliffe, alias Walker. Grisdale is a powerful colored man, who gave the police much trouble when arresting him a few days ago. He was then sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for assaulting W. P.C Podesta. Sutcliffe had already served six months out of a term of fifteen months, and has always been quiet and orderly up to the present. There is but little doubt that he was induced to attempt to regain freedom by Grisdale. The warder in charge was out with the gang for the last time, as he had resigned his position, and yesterday was his last day of service.
Both men were soon recaptured near Dongarra and were ‘sentenced to l8 months’ imprisonment with hard labour, cumulative upon the sentences they are now undergoing’. The story of their recapture makes interesting reading:
The two escaped prisoners, Grisdale and Sutcliffe, who abruptly left the quarrying party on Monday evening, were arrested about three miles on this side of Dongarra by Police-constable Walsh at a late hour last night. Warning had been sent to Dongarra that the fugitives were heading in that direction. The particulars connected with the recapture are these: — Police – constable Walsh was engaged yesterday in patrolling the space between the sea and the Geraldton road near Dongarra, the distance intervening being three miles. Late in the evening the constable on coming from the beach discovered the footprints of two men on the road. He felt convinced that they were the tracks of the escaped prisoners, and he followed them. About five miles further on they came to Waldeck’s homestead. Inquiring there, he found that two men had visited the place, and got some food, and were then lying in a thicket 300 yards off. The constable thereupon tied up his horse, and, with a black tracker, made for the thicket, which he carefully and cautiously searched. He saw a fire, and on going up to it found the two absconders sitting around it. Neither offered any resistance, and they were marched to the Dongarra lock-up. Sutcliffe and Grisdale state that they escaped from the road party at 2 p.m. on Monday last. They then made for Walk away, which they duly reached next morning. They started out, as they thought, for Dongarra, but, to their astonishment, in the afternoon they found themselves back at the quarries, the very place they had absconded from on the previous day. They determined to make a safe route, and followed the beach towards Dongarra, and when 15 miles out cut across to the road, which they kept until Waldeck’s residence was reached. It was their intention to go to Esperance, and needless to say they were much disappointed at the course which events took.
Perth in 1900
In Freemantle in November 1901: ‘Wm. Robertson, alias Grisdale, was charged with having robbed John Pablitch of the sum of £4 16s. Circumstantial evidence was given, but the Magistrates decided that although the case against Robertson looked bad, there was nothing to connect him directly with the robbery. They therefore ordered his discharge.’
On Saturday 19 July 1902, William is in the Perth Court House:
Obscene language. – A powerful man named William Grisdale (50) was charged with having behaved in a disorderly manner by using obscene language in Bazaar terrace the previous night. Evidence was given that the accused was in an intoxicated state on that occasion and about midnight was using filthy language at the top of his voice. He also was announcing his intention to fight anyone. He gave annoyance to the occupants of two large residences, and was given in charge. Accused said he was a hardworking man, and had been employed on the pipe-track. His conduct on this occasion was only due to drink. He asked to be “given a show,” and said he would not so offend again. Mr. Roe said the accused had ‘used disgusting language’ in the hearing of the lady occupants of the residences, and would have to pay a fine of 30s, with 12s. costs, in default three days’ imprisonment.
Note here William’s age – 50. This fits exactly with ‘our’ William’s date of birth, which was 1852. There weren’t any Grisdales in either Perth or Victoria in 1852, so this is the same William Grisdale. William was back in court a few days later on a similar charge:
Constables Sampson and East arrested two men in different parts of the city on Saturday night for having used filthy language in public places. Both men, George Jones and William Grisdale, were charged with the offence at the City Court this morning, and in the case of the first a fine of 10s was imposed. The second man, Grisdale, accused the arresting constable with having been drinking whilst on duty, but the bench was satisfied with the statement of the policeman, and ordered Grisdale to pay 40s. (Monday 4 August 1902)
Early in 1903, William was yet again in trouble and notice that on each occasion he gave his age as 50.
Charge of Stealing, – William Grisdale (50) charged with having, on the 23rd last, stolen from the premises of John Mullins a silver watch-chain, locket, and pendant. The accused was remanded to Thursday. (Tuesday 27 January 1903)
The Perth Daily News reported the result on 28 January 1903:
A WATCH AND CHAIN. William Grisdale was charged with having stolen a watch and chain, the property of John Mullins, a resident of Victoria Park. The prosecutor desposed to having left his watch and chain in the camp and that it was missing when he arrived home. He reported the matter to Constable Murray. W. P. Silverstom, licensee of the East Perth Hotel, said that the accused came to his hotel, and asked for a loan of 2s. 6d. on the chain produced. Witness lent the accused the money, and the accused purchased two bottles of beer. After hearing the evidence of Constable Murray, the accused was sent to gaol for one week.
And then on 10 February 1903:
A Series of Charges. – William Grisdale (50), a previous offender, was brought up on four charges. For having given a false name to the police, he was fined 20s., or three days’ imprisonment, and 20s., in default three days’ imprisonment, for having falsely represented himself us a bona-fide traveller. For having resisted arrest, Grisdale was sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment, and for having created a disturbance at the lock-up he was ordered to do a further 21 days’ imprisonment. The evidence showed that Grisdale had acted in a violent manner.
William makes other appearances in court and in one he even promises to leave the state – but he didn’t. You’ll be pleased to know that’s (almost) the last of the court reports. I quoted them at some length both for social interest and to see if they provided evidence for William Grisdale’s identity. Let’s move on.
Building the Goldfields’ Water Pipeline
William had said in July 1902 that ‘he was a hardworking man, and had been employed on the pipe-track’. What did this mean? What in fact he had been doing was helping build the important Goldfields’ Water Pipeline: ‘In 1895 the first plans were prepared for an engineering feat that would stagger the world — an attempt to pump water uphill some 500 km, from the hills near Perth to the goldfields of Coolgardie. Before construction began, the dream had become bigger. The pipeline was extended for water to be pumped even further east, to the new goldfields of Kalgoorlie. On 24 January 1903, the dream became a reality when water, which began its journey at Mundaring Weir, flowed into to Mt Charlotte Reservoir at Kalgoorlie.’
It was a remarkable achievement. In 2009 the ‘goldfields water supply scheme’ was recognised as an international historic civil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It seems that William Grisdale had been one of the labourers constructing this vast pipeline.
Water from the pipeline became available just as the production of gold in the state’s eastern goldfields was starting to decline. However regular water supplies meant agriculture could prosper. Today the Western Australian wheat fields are the most productive in Australia, accounting for 42 per cent of the nation’s wheat crop and coming mainly from the areas serviced by the goldfields pipeline and its extensions.
Is that it? Is that all we know? Not quite. In the 1916 Perth electors’ list we find a William Grisdale, who listed his occupation as a bullock driver.
Bullock drivers were typically skilled, tough men who often faced extreme difficulties during the execution of their occupation. Bullockies were also colourful characters, often noted for their strong language. Some did not swear though, relying solely on gesture, talking and whip movements as persuasion for the team’s job at hand. A typical bullocky wore a cabbage tree hat, a twill shirt of that period, moleskin trousers, blucher boots and carried a long bullock whip which in many instances he had made.
William gives his address as The Duke of York Coffee Palace in Perth. Now as a bullock driver William probably didn’t have a fixed abode and it is well known that The Duke of York Restaurant and Hotel (often called the Coffee Palace) was a place which was given as an address so people could write to them. Thousands of Australian servicemen used the address in the First World War.
James Alexander Jones (known as ‘Pa’) had taken over the running of Perth’s The Duke of York Restaurant in 1899. The Duke of York Restaurant was also referred to as The Duke of York Hotel (as they offered rooms for rent in addition to serving meals) and even as The Duke of York Coffee Palace. The latter may have been because Mr. Jones had previously run a place in Perth called The Paris Coffee Palace.
Jones offered a unique service. The Perth Sunday Times of May 25, 1925 tells us:
All who remember the old place will recall a large window abutting on the street in which were exhibited many hundreds of letters and newspapers, these having been sent to those who had either forgotten or wished to be forgotten by their friends or who had gone away in to the big spaces of the bush or had crossed the Great Divide. For years Pa Jones kept these letters in his window and now and then was rewarded by someone claiming one or two. Not until years had passed would he allow any to be opened and then only in the presence of reputable and responsible witnesses, and in many cases the letters were returned to their senders with an informative note attached.
Let me end with a poem I discovered by Henry Kendall called Bill the Bullock-Driver. I think it’s apt:
The leaders of millions, the lords of the lands,
Who sway the wide world with their will
And shake the great globe with the strength of their hands,
Flash past us–unnoticed by Bill.
The elders of science who measure the spheres
And weigh the vast bulk of the sun–
Who see the grand lights beyond aeons of years,
Are less than a bullock to _one_.
The singers that sweeten all time with their song–
Pure voices that make us forget
Humanity’s drama of marvellous wrong–
To Bill are as mysteries yet.
By thunders of battle and nations uphurled,
Bill’s sympathies never were stirred:
The helmsmen who stand at the wheel of the world
By him are unknown and unheard.
What trouble has Bill for the ruin of lands,
Or the quarrels of temple and throne,
So long as the whip that he holds in his hands
And the team that he drives are his own?
As straight and as sound as a slab without crack,
Our Bill is a king in his way;
Though he camps by the side of a shingle track,
And sleeps on the bed of his dray.
A whip-lash to him is as dear as a rose
Would be to a delicate maid;
He carries his darlings wherever he goes,
In a pocket-book tattered and frayed.
The joy of a bard when he happens to write
A song like the song of his dream
Is nothing at all to our hero’s delight
In the pluck and the strength of his team.
For the kings of the earth, for the faces august
Of princes, the millions may shout;
To Bill, as he lumbers along in the dust,
A bullock’s the grandest thing out.
His four-footed friends are the friends of his choice–
No lover is Bill of your dames;
But the cattle that turn at the sound of his voice
Have the sweetest of features and names.
A father’s chief joy is a favourite son,
When he reaches some eminent goal,
But the pride of Bill’s heart is the hairy-legged one
That pulls with a will at the pole.
His dray is no living, responsible thing,
But he gives it the gender of life;
And, seeing his fancy is free in the wing,
It suits him as well as a wife.
He thrives like an Arab. Between the two wheels
Is his bedroom, where, lying up-curled,
He thinks for himself, like a sultan, and feels
That his home is the best in the world.
For, even though cattle, like subjects, will break
At times from the yoke and the band,
Bill knows how to act when his rule is at stake,
And is therefore a lord of the land.
Of course he must dream; but be sure that his dreams,
If happy, must compass, alas!
Fat bullocks at feed by improbable streams,
Knee-deep in improbable grass.
No poet is Bill, for the visions of night
To him are as visions of day;
And the pipe that in sleep he endeavours to light
Is the pipe that he smokes on the dray.
To the mighty, magnificent temples of God,
In the hearts of the dominant hills,
Bill’s eyes are as blind as the fire-blackened clod
That burns far away from the rills.
Through beautiful, bountiful forests that screen
A marvel of blossoms from heat–
Whose lights are the mellow and golden and green–
Bill walks with irreverent feet.
The manifold splendours of mountain and wood
By Bill like nonentities slip;
He loves the black myrtle because it is good
As a handle to lash to his whip.
And thus through the world, with a swing in his tread,
Our hero self-satisfied goes;
With his cabbage-tree hat on the back of his head,
And the string of it under his nose.
Poor bullocky Bill! In the circles select
Of the scholars he hasn’t a place;
But he walks like a man, with his forehead erect,
And he looks at God’s day in the face.
For, rough as he seems, he would shudder to wrong
A dog with the loss of a hair;
And the angels of shine and superlative song
See his heart and the deity there.
Few know him, indeed; but the beauty that glows
In the forest is loveliness still;
And Providence helping the life of the rose
Is a Friend and a Father to Bill.