Archive for December, 2012

Written by Stephen Lewis and Coco Lomas

Whatever one’s ecological and social opinions, the history of logging in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada is a fascinating story. Fortunes were made, large tracts of virgin forest were cleared and the working conditions of most loggers were horrendous. I will touch very briefly on some of these issues, but the primary focus is, as always, on a Grisdale family – a family that came to Mason County, Washington State, in the late 1890s and became significant timbermen. Bill Grisdale, one of this family, was later to be called the ‘King of the Douglas Fir Loggers’.

It’s perhaps best to start our story not in Washington but rather in the 1820s in Quebec in Lower Canada.

Logs on the River in Quebec

Logs on the River in Quebec

In the early 1800s, several English-speaking families moved from Cumberland in England to Quebec, to be more precise to Vaudreuil County, an area about 30 miles west of Montreal on the Ottawa River  If any one man was responsible for inducing the Cumbrian immigrants to come to Quebec it was the Rev. Joseph Abbott.  Originally from Little Strickland in the Vale of Eden, he encouraged others to follow.  Between 1820 and 1837 over 50 British families had bought land in Hudson, Cote St. Charles and Cavagnal, communities in Vaudreuil, an English-speaking island in the French-speaking area. Most of them were friends and family. Though very poor it was said that they were ‘rich in hope and poor in purse’.

The first Grisdale to emigrate was Ann and her husband William Hodgson, a weaver from Matterdale who settled in Argenteuil County. The date of their arrival is not known but William died there in 1821 and was buried the same day as their 2 year old daughter Ester was baptized. Ann was now a widow with an infant, teenage daughters and a 6 year old son also named William.

Then in about 1824 Ann’s younger brother John and his wife Elizabeth Halton with their youngest son Benjamin arrived in Quebec.The Seigneur of Vaudreuil had had land surveyed and made available for settlers in the area known as Cote St. Charles. Settlers were allotted 50 arpents (approx. 45 acres) of uncleared land for about $5.00 per lot. The Grisdale siblings together occupied 3 adjacent lots there with Ann in one and John in two.

John and Elizabeth had a daughter, Elizabeth, born in Vaudreuil in June 1824. A second daughter, Hannah, was born June 1827.  Both girls were baptized on 26 September 1830.  When John and his wife had come to Canada they had left behind their two sons, Joseph and John, in the care of John’s parents George and Hannah Grisdale. When Hannah’s parents died in 1830, George and Hannah and the boys, by now young men, were now free to join their family in Quebec. By the autumn of 1830 the family was together again: George and Hannah, John and Elizabeth and their 5 children (Elizabeth, Hannah, Benjamin, John, and Joseph), as well as Ann Hodgson and her 5 children. Joseph and John acquired land allotments in the newly opened concession of St. Henry in Vaudreuil, not far from Cote St. Charles. Joseph’s family would remain on the farm for the next two generations.

Ninekirks, Brougham

Ninekirks, Brougham

Before we go on, let’s place this family in their Cumberland context. We might best start with George Grisdale, the ‘grandfather’, who was the oldest member of the family to go to Quebec. George Grisdale was born in 1761 in Dockray, Matterdale. He was the third child of Joseph and Ann Temple. George had married Hanna Moreland in St. Andrews Church, Penrith.  Hanna’s father John Moreland and her brothers were tailors in Carlton, near Penrith. Following George and Hanna’s marriage, the family moved to the village of Brougham, east of Penrith.  Since farming was George’s trade, the couple began to farm near Hannah’s parents. George Grisdale was active in Saint Ninian’s Church (‘Ninekirks’) in Brougham, and was appointed warden in 1798-1799. It was George’s two children, Ann (born 1786) and John (born 1788), who would first venture to Canada.  John Grisdale married Elizabeth Halton of Dacre in 1809. Ann married William Hodgson in 1804.

It wasn’t just the particular Grisdale family of this story that decided to leave England. Many other descendants of George’s parents, Joseph and Ann Grisdale, did so as well. George’s nephew Doctor Grisdale went from the Bolton cotton mills to Pennsylvania and from there his family moved on to Oregon. Another nephew, Thomas, joined the British army, served for years in India, and ended up as a coal lumper in Melbourne, Australia. Yet another nephew, John Grisdale, emigrated to Sydney, Australia, where his family prospered. Two of George’s great nephews, John and Jonathan, also went from the Lancashire mills to Pennsylvania. Finally, another family member, also John, became a missionary and a Canadian Bishop. Quite an adventurous family!

But back to Quebec. By 1830 the Grisdale family were all together in Vaudreuil. The years passed, the 1837 rebellion came and went; ending perhaps “not with a bang, but with a whimper.” The family grew. This interesting story will have to wait till later.

Joseph Grisdale's House - Cote St. Henri, Vaudreveuil

Joseph Grisdale’s House – Cote St. Henri, Vaudreuil

Joseph Grisdale (1810 – 1900), the eldest son of John and Elizabeth Grisdale, was about 20 when he and his brother John emigrated to Quebec with their grandparents. He had spent time while in England getting an education as a chemist. “Being a chemist he also had a fair knowledge of the medical field and Joseph was known by many as Doctor Grisdale.” He turned to farming in his new home and acquired an allotment of 180 arpents in St. Henri, Vaudreuil.  He married Mary Hodgson, daughter of Robert Hodgson and Elizabeth Kidd in 1835. They had five children: Eliza (1835) Albert Benjamin (1840), Mary Jane (1843), Elizabeth Ann (1844) and Priscilla (1847). In 1869 Albert married Elizabeth Simpson, daughter of Joseph Simpson and Caroline Grout, also immigrants from Cumberland.

Albert Benjamin Grisdale (1840-1917) and his wife Elizabeth raised a family of twelve children on their homestead in St Henry.  It was some of these children who were to become the Grisdale Fir Loggers in the Pacific Northwest and who are the subject of the rest of this article. (Other children went on to great things and perhaps will be the subject of future articles). We will concentrate on some of the middle children, all born in Cote St. Charles: George Marion Grisdale (1872), John William Grisdale – called Bill – (1874), Mary Amanda Grisdale (1876), Albert Bartley Grisdale (1878) and Ralph Solomon Grisdale (1890).

There have been a lot of names already. It doesn’t matter if you remember all the connections. Yet one  more name is crucial to the story; that of Solomon (‘Sol’) Grout Simpson, the uncle of the Grisdale children. The Simpsons and the Grisdales were close friends and neighbours. As forests were cut for farming, many local men had found employment cutting timber and working on the log booms along the rivers. Sol Simpson and his brothers worked as timber raftsmen, floating spruce and fir logs along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers.

Sol Simpson

Sol Simpson

After the Civil war in America ended in 1865, Sol Simpson, a thin man with a big moustache, headed to the Nevada gold rush but found more success building railroads around Carson City. Here he won and lost two fortunes while still a young man. He married ‘Carson City’s most eligible young women’, Mary Gerrard, in 1875. When he lost his house in 1878, and was ‘practically penniless’, he moved his family to Seattle and found work driving horses for the crews that were building the settlement’s streets and railroads. Through a lot of hard work and initiative Sol gained a good reputation and some backers, which enabled him to move to Mason County where he first established S.G. Simpson Company in 1890 – which prospered by using horses to build roads and haul logs. In 1895 he founded the Simpson Logging Company in Shelton with some partners, a logging company that became not just the main local employer, but also the largest source of jobs in the whole state.

Books could be written, and indeed they have been written, about Sol Simpson’s life and the Simpson Logging Company. For our purposes the important thing to know is that George Grisdale, Sol’s nephew, had worked on the rivers just as Sol had. So it seemed natural that he would follow Sol to work in the woods in Mason County.  George was 17 years old when he left Quebec in 1889 and headed for the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  He worked hard for the next seven years, learning all aspects of the logging business.  When Joe Simpson, Sol’s brother, retired from his position as Simpson’s general ‘superintendent’ of logging operations, George was appointed to take his place; a job he held until his untimely death in 1929 – to which we will return.

For five years after his arrival George wrote to his younger brother Bill, telling him of the wonders of the trees on the Olympic Peninsula. They were “really big and tall and thick” and he “just had to see it to believe it“.  Brother Bill could stand it no longer. In 1895 he packed his bag and hopped a train heading to Washington State.  By the turn of the century Bill was the foreman of Simpsons first ‘Camp One’ in Mason County.  He helped Simpson to pioneer logging with teams of horses (previously done with oxen) and later working the steam donkey engines to haul the large logs up hills. Bill Grisdale replaced his uncle Robert Simpson as foreman of logging operations in 1910.

Bill and George Grisdale

Bill and George Grisdale

Both George and Bill Grisdale raised their families in the logging camps along the railroad tracks.   When children had to go into Shelton they would take the logging train, riding in the caboose. When an area was logged out the company would move the camp to another site, clearing the land, laying track and loading all of the buildings on the flatbed train to the new area.   Not all of the camps had schools, so they would stay with another family in a camp that had a school.

In the beginning of logging camps, there were bunk houses that bunked about 20 men, each of whom had to provide their own mattress and bedding.  Conditions in the bunkhouses depended upon the men being housed.  Some refused to shower; others were neat – and clean enough to attend church. Some men chose to build their own little cabin along the tracks and avoid the rows of wet, dirty socks that often added to the aroma in the bunkhouses. There were no medical facilities.  Injured loggers had to be loaded on trains to go into Shelton or, before Shelton had a hospital, taken by boat to Olympia.  Best not to get injured!

Accident and death would have been witnessed on many occasions in the logging camps by George and Bill Grisdale. But they also experienced sadness even closer to home. In 1912 their younger brother Ralph decided to take a break from his studies at McDonald College in Quebec.  He went to work for his brother-in-law Will Crosby in Simpson’s Camp 7.  Will Crosby and his wife Mary (Grisdale) Crosby and a young son had left their home in Point Fortune, Quebec, in 1907 and moved to Mason County to work for the Simpson Logging Company.  Will Crosby was hired as foreman of Simpson’s Camp 7. In February 1915, Ralph met instant death by being crushed between the drums of a big donkey engine. His gloved hand was caught in the moving cable and he was hurled into the machine. His obituary said: “He was well liked by his associates for gentle ways and clean-cut character“. George, Bill and their sister Mary Crosby must have been devastated.

Donkey Engine in Simpson's Camp One

Donkey Engine in Simpson’s Camp One

The use of ‘donkey engines’, or ‘steam donkeys’, had been something that Sol Simpson had pioneered in Washington. Donkey engine is the common nickname for a steam-powered winch. The engines “acquired their name from their origin in sailing ships, where the ‘donkey’ engine was typically a small secondary engine used to load and unload cargo and raise the larger sails with small crews, or to power pumps”.

A logging engine comprised at least one powered winch around which was wound hemp rope or (later) steel cable. They were usually fitted with a boiler, and usually equipped with skids, or sleds made from logs, to aid them during transit from one “setting” to the next. The larger steam donkeys often had a “donkey house” (a makeshift shelter for the crew) built either on the skids or as a separate structure. Usually a water tank, and sometimes a fuel oil tank, was mounted on the back of the sled. In rare cases, steam donkeys were also mounted on wheels. Later steam donkeys were built with multiple horizontally-mounted drums/spools, on which were wound heavy steel cables instead of the original rope.

A “line horse” would carry the cable out to a log in the woods. The cable would be attached, and, on signal, the steam donkey’s operator (engineer) would open the regulator, allowing the steam donkey to drag or “skid” the log towards it. The log was taken either to a mill or to a “landing” where the log would be transferred for onward shipment by rail, road or river (either loaded onto boats or floated directly in the water). Later a ‘haulback’ drum was added, where a smaller cable could be routed around the “setting” and connected to the end of the heavier “mainline” to replace the line horse… If a donkey was to be moved, one of its cables was attached to a tree, stump or other strong anchor, and the machine would drag itself overland to the next yarding location.

Simpson Loading Crew

Simpson Loading Crew

Ralph’s death was not the only tragedy for the family. Back in 1908, married brother Albert Bartley had gone to Shelton to visit his sister Mary Crosby and to see if there was a place for him in the logging industry.  While there he developed appendicitis and died.  He was buried in Shelton but later his mother, Elizabeth Grisdale, went to Shelton to take his body to Hudson for burial in Cote St. Charles.

Later, in 1929, George Grisdale, the superintendant of all Simpson’s logging, and the first of the family to come to Washington, died at the age of 57. His obituary said, “George Grisdale was known as a captain of men and a friend to all.” And then two years later, in 1931, Bill Grisdale’s only son Joseph was shot to death by a crazed gunman along with five members of the shooter’s family, including two small children.  Joseph Grisdale was only 25 and was the camp foreman for the Simpson Logging camp where the madman worked.

The hazards and travails of the Washington loggers’ lives weren’t just limited to unfortunate accidents or crazed gunmen. They lived for months on end in the logging camps, usually without their families, they worked a minimum of ten hours a day, they were paid a pittance and were often intimidated by the ‘Lumber Barons’  – among whom Sol Simpson and his son-in-law successor, Mark Reed, were two of the biggest. One description of a loggers’ camp describes it as follows:

Inside a bunkhouse

Inside a bunkhouse

Loggers worked in the woods for an average 10-hour day and returned to a loggers’ camp at night, frequently in wet and muddy clothes. In the camp there was no place to wash and no place to dry wet clothes. The food was greasy and poor.

The bunkhouse was small and unventilated to the point, in the words of one investigator, “the sweaty, steamy odours … would asphyxiate the uninitiated” . The bedding crawled with bedbugs. One camp investigated found 80 men crowded into a crude barracks with no windows. The men pressed into tiny bunks and went to sleep “under groundhog conditions”. A study of logging camps made in the winter of 1917-1918 found that half had no bathing facilities, half had only crude wooden bunks, and half were infested with bedbugs. Employers blamed the loggers for the swarms of bedbugs and lice because loggers brought the pests in their filthy “bindles” or bedrolls.

A Wobblies' Poster

A Wobblies’ Poster

It was generally thought that Simpson Logging camps were the best in the area. In 1900 a lady journalist wrote, “The cookhouse is one of the portable buildings with the storeroom overflowing with supplies. Down the length of the room run two tables with neat dark oilcloth set for 80 men. The dishes are white earthenware.  The dinner is abundant and excellent…” Another journalist: “There is no better fed industrial worker on earth than the West Coast logger”

But many loggers were recent immigrants and in the years before the First World War labour was in abundant supply. The balance of power clearly lay with the employers. Unions such as the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) ‘tried to infiltrate the woods, sending in individuals to test the waters for organizing’.  ‘This proved too be a very dangerous job’, as seen here in a letter written in 1911 by Mark Reed, Sol Simpson’s son-in-law and successor:

It is very difficult to eradicate this element entirely from our employees as they are certainly actively engaged in soliciting membership and stirring up discontent.  For instance:  Last week we had the misfortune to kill a man, and we had no idea until after he was dead that he was a member of this order, but found his membership card and by-laws among his effects.

Once America belatedly entered the war in 1917 things changed. The logging companies lost many key workers and the demand for spruce to supply the armed forces soared. Unrest in the camps increased and various local strikes broke out throughout the state. In July 1917 the IWW, whose members were known as ‘Wobblies’, called a timber workers’ strike. They were demanding an ‘eight-hour day, improved sanitary conditions in the logging camps, a payday to occur twice a month with a $60 a month minimum wage, the abolition of compulsory hospital deductions for non-existent services, and hiring through the IWW union hall instead of through employment “sharks,” labor agents who provided often short-lived jobs for a price to the worker’.

The lumber barons resisted fiercely. They closed down most of the logging camps. Simpson’s closed down all but one of its. This episode in American social and labour history is fascinating and many excellent studies have been written on the subject. We commend them to you; but we don’t have the space here to describe what happened in more detail. But remember that in 1917 George Grisdale was still heading all Simpson’s logging operations and his brother Bill was still in charge of the company’s Camp One. They would have been intimately involved.

The Wobblies’ strike soon ended. Mark Reed and the government’s ‘Lumber Tsar’ Colonel Brice Disque ‘both became convinced that the eight hour day should be accepted’ and negotiated a settlement and conceded an eight hour day; although some of the logging companies soon reneged on the agreement.

Returning to the Grisdale family; with the death of his three brothers, only Bill Grisdale and his sister Mary Crosby were left of the siblings who had come from Quebec to Mason County. Bill had married Esther Cornelia Callow in 1902 and besides their son, Joseph Callow Grisdale, who had been killed by the crazed gunman; they had had a daughter in 1913 called Gertrude, who was later to marry James Pauley. Older brother George had married Bertha Gouptel in 1897; they had various daughters and one son named George Marion Grisdale Junior, born in 1906, who married Frances Marian Schick and founded Grisdale Construction in Shelton. George Junior died in Shelton in 1991.

Simpson's Camp One

Simpson’s Camp One

Bill himself continued his work with Simpson’s until his retirement in 1947 at the age of 73. He had been with Simpson’s Logging for 49 years and in charge of Camp One from its creation until his retirement. Just before his retirement, as the towns had grown (Shelton, Elma, Matlock and Aberdeen for example) and roads were laid and cars became available, the need for moving the camp and housing the men became unnecessary.  In 1946 Simpson’s built a single, modern camp. It was named Camp Grisdale, in honour of the Grisdale brothers, John William ‘Bill’ Grisdale and George Marion Grisdale.  By the standards of earlier days Camp Grisdale appeared almost luxurious. People were hired to shake out sheets and clean the bunkhouses and hot showers were installed. It was one of the last resident logging camps in the nation. The closure of Camp Grisdale in 1986 ended that chapter of American history in the Northwest so often told in the folklore of Paul Bunyan.

One final note on sustainable logging: Camp Grisdale would not have been built had it not been for the Sustained Yield Contract with the US Forest Service, with the backing of Simpson boss Bill Reed. Simpson’s started its South Olympic Tree Farm in 1943; one of the first companies in the US to do so. By 1986 the company was logging in second growth stands which had had 40 years in which to mature.

Camp Grisdale

Camp Grisdale

Bill’s first wife Esther had died in 1940. His second wife, Jessie A. Knight, whom he had married in 1945, predeceased him in 1954.  On his retirement a dinner honouring Bill was held “which drew 200 friends and associates of the veteran timberman to Camp Grisdale cookhouse”.

Grisdale’s friends from points as far as Seattle and Portland drove 50 miles out of Shelton to the modern new camp named in honor of Bill and his late brother, George, an important figure in Simpson’s early days.

We are told that his ‘ruddy ears’ had ‘heard all the words used in logging through the past half century’. ‘But none nicer than those spoken at this party by old friends.’ His relative State Representative Arthur Callow paid tribute to Grisdale’s loyalty to his men and to his company.

All men who have worked for Bill Grisdale have respected him because he respected them.

 The report continues. “The Camp Grisdale cooks spread a girdle-bursting dinner of roast turkey and Virginia baked ham, but the evening’s beans were spilled by Billy Pauley, 9 year-old grandson of Bill Grisdale.” “When called upon to give a few remarks for the family, the boy announced ‘Grandpa’s going to like that tractor an awful lot’. The tractor, a two-wheeled garden tiller purchased for Grisdale by his employers, was supposed to have been the evening’s big surprise. Billy went on ‘Oh, Grandpa had known about it for weeks.’” The tractor was called ‘Tillie’ after Sol Simpson’s wife.

Like his brother George, Bill had been an active Freemason with Mount Moriah Lodge, No. 11. On their 100th anniversary in 1964 the lodge wrote:

One of the Past Masters who now holds the record for piling up many years in one lifetime is W. Bro. J. W. Grisdale who was master in 1930. “Uncle Bill” as he is known to all of his many friends has passed his 90th birthday and is still hale and hearty. He lives in his home at Arcadia and raises a garden that would do credit to a man half his age. In summer the profusion of flowers is wondrous to behold. Bill was voted a life membership and has long passed the 50 years in Masonry mark.

In October 1965 Bill paid a last visit to Camp Grisdale. The Simpson Diamond reported: “Bill Grisdale, firm of face and frame at 91, looked around at the neat logging camp, its freshly painted buildings and neat lawns gleaming in the sun. ‘Quite a change,’ he mused. ‘It’s sure an improvement over the old ones – and we thought Simpson had the best around.’”

Bill was, says the article, “Hailed throughout the northwest as the ‘King of the Douglas Fir Loggers.’” He continued to reside at his home on Arcadia Point on the Puget Sound, 10 miles out of Shelton, until his death in 1968 at the age of 94. His time was ‘spent reading, tending a magnificent flower and vegetable garden and putting up some of the best preserves in Mason County’. No doubt with the assistance of ‘Tollie’ his two-wheeled tractor!

Bill Grisdale's grave in Shelton

Bill Grisdale’s grave in Shelton

After the deaths of Bill Grisdale and his nephew George Grisdale Jnr., the Grisdale name died out in Mason County. Although there are a number of descendants of the Grisdales of Quebec, who moved to Washington State to become fir loggers, still living in the area. Coco Lomas, joint author of this article, is one. She is the granddaughter of George and Bill’s sister Mary, who married William Crosby.

All that now remains of this Matterdale name are a few fond memories and a few stories such as this one; plus a couple of enduring geographic and topographic names: such as Camp Grisdale and Grisdale Hill.

In terms of Bill, what a man, what a family! Truly one of those Paul Bunyan’s of the woods

What is the connection between England’s most famous Romantic poet and the generally humble Grisdale family? Did Wordsworth ever know there was a connection and if he did would he have cared? A story of parallel universes.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

On fine late September day in 1800, poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy walked with their brother John the few miles over the hills from their home at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, to Grisedale Tarn, a tiny mountain lake at the head of Grisedale Pass, overlooking Lake Ullswater, in the English Lake District. John had for some months been visiting his family in their native county, but now he had to return to his duties as a Captain of an East India Company ship. Grisedale Tarn was one of John’s favourite spots; he loved to sit and fish there. It was here that William and Dorothy made their farewells and ‘they had waved him off down the path to Patterdale where it leaves Grisedale Tarn’ – from there to proceed to Penrith.

Just over four years later John was shipwrecked and died.  ‘John Wordsworth had sailed early in 1805 in command of the East Indiaman Abergavenny, which was wrecked by the fault of a pilot off the Bill of Portland on 5 Feb. The captain, who behaved with great courage, and over two hundred persons were lost.’

Amelia Murray had seen the loss of the Abergavenny; she wrote:

One morning, coming down early, I saw what I thought was a great big ship without any hull. This was the Abergavenny, East Indiaman, which had sunk with all sails set, hardly three miles from the shore, and all on board perished.

Had any of the crew taken refuge in the main-top, they might have been saved; but the bowsprit, which was crowded with human beings, gave a lurch into the sea as the ship settled down, and thus all were washed off—though the timber appeared again above water when the ‘Abergavenny’ touched the ground. The ship had sprung a leak off St. Alban’s Head; and in spite of pumps, she went to the bottom just within reach of safety.

The Wordsworth siblings were very close, perhaps as a reaction against their rather severe and often absent father, and William was distraught following his brother’s death. It wasn’t too long before he started to put his feelings into his poetry. Later the same year he started to write an elegy to John called: Elegiac Verses in Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth. The complete verses are reproduced at the end.

The Earl of Abergavenny

The Earl of Abergavenny

It is said that Wordsworth hadn’t wanted to visit Grisedale Tarn again for some time after his brother’s death – it would bring back too painful memories. But on 8 June 1805, in the company of a neighbour, he trekked up to Grisedale Tarn to fish. It was here he started to compose his elegy to his brother. It seems he left in tears, unable to remain, but he returned a few days later with Dorothy and Mary (his wife). “Leaving them behind at Grisedale Tarn, he began to walk in his brother’s footsteps… to Patterdale”

In Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth, Commander of the E. I. Company’s Ship, The Earl Of Abergavenny, in which He Perished by Calamitous Shipwreck, Feb. 6th, 1805, to give it its full title, wasn’t published until 1842.

Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to her friend Miss Jane Pollard after her brother’s death:

Grisedale Tarn

Grisedale Tarn

… It does me good to weep for him, and it does me good to find that others weep, and I bless them for it. … It is with me, when I write, as when I am walking out in this vale, once so full of joy. I can turn to no object that does not remind me of our loss. I see nothing that he would not have loved, and enjoyed…. My consolations rather come to me in gusts of feeling, than are the quiet growth of my mind. I know it will not always be so. The time will come when the light of the setting sun upon these mountain tops will be as heretofore a pure joy; not the same gladness, that can never be—but yet a joy even more tender. It will soothe me to know how happy he would have been, could he have seen the same beautiful spectacle…. He was taken away in the freshness of his manhood; pure he was, and innocent as a child. Never human being was more thoroughly modest, and his courage I need not speak of. He was ‘seen speaking with apparent cheerfulness to the first mate a few minutes before the ship went down;’ and when nothing more could be done, He said, ‘the will of God be done.’ I have no doubt when he felt that it was out of his power to save his life he was as calm as before, if some thought of what we should endure did not awaken a pang…. He loved solitude, and he rejoiced in society. He would wander alone amongst these hills with his fishing-rod, or led on by the mere pleasure of walking, for many hours; or he would walk with W. or me, or both of us, and was continually pointing out—with a gladness which is seldom seen but in very young people—something which perhaps would have escaped our observation; for he had so fine an eye that no distinction was unnoticed by him, and so tender a feeling that he never noticed anything in vain. Many a time has he called out to me at evening to look at the moon or stars, or a cloudy sky, or this vale in the quiet moonlight; but the stars and moon were his chief delight. He made of them his companions when he was at sea, and was never tired of those thoughts which the silence of the night fed in him. Then he was so happy by the fireside. Any little business of the house interested him. He loved our cottage. He helped us to furnish it, and to make the garden. Trees are growing now which he planted…. He staid with us till the 29th of September, having come to us about the end of January. During that time Mary Hutchinson—now Mary Wordsworth—staid with us six weeks. John used to walk with her everywhere, and they were exceedingly attached to each other; so my poor sister mourns with us, not merely because we have lost one who was so dear to William and me, but from tender love to John and an intimate knowledge of him. Her hopes as well as ours were fixed on John…. I can think of nothing but of our departed Brother, yet I am very tranquil to-day. I honour him, and love him, and glory in his memory…. March 16th, 1805. Grasmere.

After the poet’s death in 1850, at a meeting of The Wordsworth Society held at Grasmere, in July 1881, it was proposed by one of the members, the Rev. H. D. Rawnsley, then Vicar of Wray, to erect some memorial at the parting-place of the brothers. In June 1882 Rawnsley wrote:

A proposition, made by one of its members to the Wordsworth Society when it met in Grasmere in 1881, to mark the spot in the Grisedale Pass of Wordsworth’s parting from his brother John—and to carry out a wish the poet seems to have hinted at in the last of his elegiac verses in memory of that parting—is now being put into effect. It has been determined, after correspondence with Lord Coleridge, Dr. Cradock, Professor Knight, and Mr. Hills, to have inscribed — (on the native rock, if possible)—the first four lines of Stanzas III. and VII. of these verses:

“Here did we stop; and here looked round

While each into himself descends,

For that last thought of parting Friends

That is not to be found.

Brother and friend, if verse of mine

Have power to make thy virtues known,

Here let a monumental Stone

Stand–sacred as a Shrine.”

The rock selected is a fine mass, facing the east, on the left of the track as one descends from Grisedale Tarn towards Patterdale, and is about 100 yards from the tarn. No more suitable one can be found, and we have the testimony of Mr. David Richardson of Newcastle, who has practical knowledge of engineering, that it is the fittest, both from shape and from slight incline of plane.

It has been proposed to sink a panel in the face of the rock, that so the inscription may be slightly protected, and to engrave the letters upon the face of the panel thus obtained. But it is not quite certain yet that the grain of the rock— volcanic ash—will admit of the lettering. If this cannot be carried out, it has been determined to have the letters engraved upon a slab of Langdale slate, and imbed it in the Grisedale Rock .

It is believed that the simplicity of the design, the lonely isolation of this mountain memorial, will appeal at once to the few who pass this way, Traveller or Shepherd.

And we in our turn appeal to English tourists who may chance to see it, to forego the wish of adding to it, or taking anything from it, by engraving their own names; and to let the Monumental Stone stand, as the poet wished it might ‘… stand, sacred as a Shrine.’

The Brothers' Parting Stone

The Brothers’ Parting Stone

The stone was duly engraved and is called The Brothers’ Parting Stone. English and other tourists can still see it to this day, though it is rather weather-worn.

I tell this story mainly because when I first heard it, while walking in the Lake District as a young man, I found it touching. But was the only connection Wordsworth had with the name Grisedale (or Grisdale as William and Dorothy tended to call it, using its older form) the name of the tarn? Not at all, as I will tell.

William Wordsworth was a Romantic poet and he didn’t really understand the working life and people of the Lakes he did so much to eulogize and popularize. Canon Rawnsley interviewed (to use an anachronistic term) quite a few local people after Wordsworth’s death regarding their dealings with the poet. One Westmorland farmer who had met Wordsworth answered Rawnsley’s questions thus:

Why… Wordsworth never said much to folk; quite different from li’le Hartley (Coleridge) as knawed the insides of cottages for miles around, and was welcomed in ’em all.

When asked, “Do you think that he had any friends among the shepherds?” he replied:

Naay, Naay, he cared nowt about folk, nor sheep, nor dogs – his hobby was potry.

It is just not the case that, as one rather starry-eyed American writer I recently had the misfortune to read wrote:

Wordsworth is not simply narrating to his readers what rural life is like; he is demonstrating it to them in the most realistic way that he knows how. Unlike other poets, Wordsworth knows rural life and can properly create a dialogue between two rural figures because he has been in conversation with rural people before. Not only is Wordsworth familiar with rural life, but he is also educated, making it that much easier for him to say what he wants to say in the way he wants to say it, thus portraying rustic living as accurately as he can to an audience that may not have been exposed to a realistic account of rural life before.

The life and work of William Wordsworth and the lives of the common people of the land he loved were parallel universes, they never really touched. If they ‘saw’ each other now and again they quickly ‘unsaw’; to borrow the language of China Mieville’s superb novel The City and The City.

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth

Wordsworth House, Cockermouth

William had of course been born in Cumberland, in 1770, in the ‘pocket’ – and decidedly ‘rotten’ – borough of Cockermouth. His parent’s house, now unsurprisingly called Wordsworth House, was and is ‘the largest, newest (built 1745), and most splendid house in Cockermouth in 1774, so large and splendid that it remains unmatched in the town to this day: this was his “father’s house.” Wordsworth’s birthplace was a spacious town mansion, with impressive drawing rooms on the first floor and plenty of bedrooms for a large family and servants on the second, plus a subterranean ground floor that opened out at the rear to an exquisite long garden running down to the river Derwent.’ Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described Wordsworth House in his book ‘The Buildings of England – Cumberland and Westmorland’ as ‘quite a swagger house for such a town’.

How had such a magnificent house come to be built in a tiny town which at the time ‘consisted of one road enclosed between the Derwent and a wall, with access to the countryside through gates at either end of the street’.

It had been built in 1745 by a gentleman called Joshua Lucock, the then High Sheriff of Cumberland, a member of an old but inbred and struggling aristocratic family. Eventually the family became so inbred that many of them ended up literally mad. And where did Joshua Lucock get the money for such a fine house? The answer is that like so many hard-up aristocrats before and since he had married into wealth derived from despised ‘trade’. He had married Mary Grisdale in 1729. Mary was the only surviving child of Wilfred Grisdale, a Matterdale man ‘made good’.

East End of London

East End of London

Wilfred had gone to London and made a fortune as a brewer in Goodman’s Fields – in the stinking sink of the East End. He soon used this wealth to make himself a gentleman. As early as 1707/1708 he had obviously already made a considerable amount of money because in that year he was able to buy ‘Wood Hall’ (Woodhall), a large manor house near Bridekirk, outside Cockermouth, from the Tolson family. In 1827 Wilfred bought and became the Lord of the Manor of Brigham and Hewthwaite, Bridekirk; and with this he also became the owner of Hewthwaite Hall. The seller was the indebted Jacobite Lord Wharton

When Wilfred Grisdale died in 1732, in his rather complicated will (of which I have a copy) he left the bulk of his wealth to his daughter and her husband – Joshua Lucock. Unfortunately Mary (Grisdale) Lucock didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her father’s work. She died in 1737, aged only 29. Eleven years late Joshua Lucock was married again, this time to Elizabeth Raisbeck. And in 1745 with the money he had got from his wife he had built what is now Wordsworth House in Cockermouth.

In 1756 the wealthiest and most powerful man in Cumberland and Westmorland (if not in England), James Lowther, later Earl Lonsdale, perhaps the most feared and hated man in England, basically bought Cockermouth lock stock and barrel, ‘at the astronomical cost of £58,000 (over £500,000, in modern terms)’, including, in 1761, Lucock’s house, and put it in his ‘pocket’. It became one of his many pocket boroughs, used to give him more clout in Parliament.

Lowther’s land buying was “not so much investing money … as buying up the perquisites of a social class, the undisturbed control of the life of a neighborhood.”

Lowther appointed William Wordsworth’s father John Wordsworth as his steward and agent for Cockermouth and gave him use of Lucock’s house.  As Kenneth R. Johnston puts it in his excellent study The Hidden Wordsworth:

John Wordsworth Sr. was Lowther’s law or land agent. In the late twentieth century this sounds like the steward or overseer of an estate. But in the mid-eighteenth century it signified mainly a political business agent, or nonstop campaign manager, comprising the tasks of borough monger, ward heeler, vote canvasser, election rigger, briber, and payer-off of innkeepers—none of which were regarded as reprehensible or, within reason, illegal activities. Such agents were not popular, since they tended to treat people as their master treated them.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

It was in this house that William Wordsworth and his brothers and sisters were born and raised. ‘John Wordsworth, the poet’s father, moved to Cockermouth as agent to Sir James in 1764, and in 1766 married Anne Cookson and moved rent free into what is now known as Wordsworth House. Here four sons and a daughter were born…. Their mother died on 8 March 1778 when William was eight, and he spent most of his time with relatives in Penrith. His father died in Wordsworth House five years later on 30 December 1783. In 1784 all the children finally left the house to be cared for by relations.’

The poet would later often write about his childhood in what he termed ‘my father’s house’. Here is just one example:

“I, a four years’ child,
A naked boy, among the silent pools
Made one long bathing of a summer’s day,
Basked in the sun, or plunged into thy streams,
Alternate, all a summer’s day, or coursed
Over the sandy fields, and dashed the flowers
Of yellow grunsel; or, when the crag and hill,
The woods, and distant Skiddaw’s lofty height,
Were bronzed with a deep radiance, stood alone
A naked savage in the thunder-shower….”  (1799)

I’m pretty sure that William Wordsworth never knew that his ‘father’s house’ had been built with Grisdale money; money earned in the squalor of the breweries and taverns of London’s East End. He lived, as I’ve said, in a parallel universe.

John Paul Jones' Raid on Whitehaven

John Paul Jones’ Raid on Whitehaven

There are of course other links between England’s most illustrious and revered poet and our simple Grisdale family. On 11 April 1778, when the poet was just eight, and through Lowther family influence, William Wordsworth’s uncle Richard Wordsworth had been appointed Collector of H.M Customs for the important Cumberland port of Whitehaven. A town created and controlled by the Lowthers. Only eleven days later Whitehaven was to witness the raid of Scottish pirate, turned founder Captain of the American Navy, John Paul Jones. After Richard’s death in 1794, two Grisdales were to hold the same position: Benjamin Grisdale, who I wrote about recently and, a little later, William Grisdale, the son of successful corn factor Matthew Grisdale. It would be good to find out what both their relationships were with the Lowther family; because without that family’s support they could never have hoped to be appointed to such prestigious and potentially lucrative positions.

What I call ‘Big History’ isn’t the sweeping narratives of Fernand Braudel’s longue dure, nor is it the deep history of life on earth (both of which I love). It is for me the fact that one can start anywhere at any time and quite easily find connections with other events or people anywhere else at any other time – even if they are parallel universes. How a Matterdale Grisdale’s money built William Wordsworth’s family house is just one example. It’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation’, though the connections often need fewer than six steps.

In Memory of My Brother, John Wordsworth, Commander of the E. I. Company’s Ship, and The Earl Of Abergavenny, in which He Perished by Calamitous Shipwreck, Feb. 6th, 1805:

I

THE Sheep-boy whistled loud, and lo!
That instant, startled by the shock,
The Buzzard mounted from the rock
Deliberate and slow:
Lord of the air, he took his flight;
Oh! could he on that woeful night
Have lent his wing, my Brother dear,
For one poor moment’s space to Thee,
And all who struggled with the Sea,
When safety was so near.

II

Thus in the weakness of my heart
I spoke (but let that pang be still)
When rising from the rock at will,
I saw the Bird depart.
And let me calmly bless the Power
That meets me in this unknown Flower.
Affecting type of him I mourn!
With calmness suffer and believe,
And grieve, and know that I must grieve,
Not cheerless, though forlorn.

III

Here did we stop; and here looked round
While each into himself descends,
For that last thought of parting Friends
That is not to be found.
Hidden was Grasmere Vale from sight,
Our home and his, his heart’s delight,
His quiet heart’s selected home.
But time before him melts away,
And he hath feeling of a day
Of blessedness to come.

IV

Full soon in sorrow did I weep,
Taught that the mutual hope was dust,
In sorrow, but for higher trust,
How miserably deep!
All vanished in a single word,
A breath, a sound, and scarcely heard:
Sea–Ship–drowned–Shipwreck–so it came,
The meek, the brave, the good, was gone;
He who had been our living John
Was nothing but a name.

V

That was indeed a parting! oh,
Glad am I, glad that it is past;
For there were some on whom it cast
Unutterable woe.
But they as well as I have gains;–
From many a humble source, to pains
Like these, there comes a mild release;
Even here I feel it, even this Plant
Is in its beauty ministrant
To comfort and to peace.

VI

He would have loved thy modest grace,
Meek Flower! To Him I would have said,
“It grows upon its native bed
Beside our Parting-place;
There, cleaving to the ground, it lies
With multitude of purple eyes,
Spangling a cushion green like moss;
But we will see it, joyful tide!
Some day, to see it in its pride,
The mountain will we cross.”

VII

–Brother and Friend, if verse of mine
Have power to make thy virtues known,
Here let a monumental Stone
Stand–sacred as a Shrine;
And to the few who pass this way,
Traveller or Shepherd, let it say,
Long as these mighty rocks endure,–
Oh do not Thou too fondly brood,
Although deserving of all good,
On any earthly hope, however pure!

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

What was a Grisdale man’s connection with The Charge of the Light Brigade? How did a soldier in an elite British cavalry regiment in India end up lumping coal in the Melbourne docks? And did he sire one or more ‘half-breeds’ while trying to get rich in the Victoria gold rush? This is the story of Thomas Grisdale, a Bolton cotton weaver’s son.

Thomas Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1804. He escaped the cotton mills by joining the army. I’m not yet precisely sure exactly when, but it seems clear that as a private in the 15th King’s Own Light Dragoons (Hussars) he sailed for India with the regiment from their base in Maidstone, Kent, in September 1839 – under Lieutenant – Colonel Sir Walter Scott, the son of the famous novelist. He was to spend the next fourteen years in India, first in Madras but mostly in Bangalore. The ‘Madras Presidency’ which covered most of southern India was run by the British East India Company.

Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre

The 15th Hussars was an illustrious regiment. They were called both The Fighting 15th and The Tabs. They were raised in 1759 and had fought in the Peninsular War at Sahagun and Vittoria and later at Waterloo. Unfortunately they had also played a pivotal role in the notorious Peterloo Massacre in 1819:  ‘Where a 60,000 strong crowd calling for democratic reform were charged by the Yeomanry. Panic from the crowd was interpreted as an attack on the Yeomanry and the Hussars (led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. The charge resulted in 15 fatalities and as many as 600 injured.’

Captain Lewis Nolan

Captain Lewis Nolan

After an initial spell in the regional capital, Madras, Thomas was mostly on garrison duty with the regiment in Bangalore. The regiment became one of the best trained cavalry units in the British army, thanks in no small measure to the efforts and new ideas of a certain Captain Lewis Edward Nolan – under whom Thomas served. In a list of the men of the 15th Hussars stationed in Bangalore in 1845 (although I think the list comes from slightly later), we find Private Thomas Grisdale as well as Captain Lewis Nolan.

Nolan wasn’t a typical British cavalry officer. Though British Canadian by birth, through his father’s connections he had been commissioned into the Austrian Imperial Cavalry and seen action as a Hussar in Poland and Hungary. But he was persuaded by certain ‘English gentlemen’ to resign his commission and buy a commission in the British army. This he did in 1839 and he was with Grisdale and the 15th Hussars on the trip to Madras. Nolan had strong ideas about how cavalry should be used, how horses should be trained and about the inappropriateness of the Hussars’ uniforms. He later published two treatises on the subject called: The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: A New System (1851) and Cavalry: Its History and Tactics (1853). Given his expertise, Nolan was made the regiment’s riding master and his methods were later adopted throughout the army. Two quotes from his writings give us a flavour:

Write up in golden letters – or in letters distinguishable, and easy to read – in every riding-school, and in every stable: “HORSES ARE TAUGHT NOT BY HARSHNESS BUT BY GENTLENESS.” Where the officers are classical, the golden rule may be given in Xenophon’s Greek, as well as in English.

To me it appears we have too much frippery – too much toggery – too much weight in things worse than useless. To a cavalry soldier every ounce is of consequence! I can never believe that our hussar uniform (take which of them you please) is the proper dress in which to do hussar’s duty in war – to scramble through thickets, to clear woods, to open the way through forests, to ford or swim rivers, to bivouac, to be nearly always on outpost work, to ‘rough it’ in every possible manner. Of what use are plumes, bandoliers, sabretashes, sheep-skins, shabraques, etc?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

But besides the fact that Grisdale knew Nolan, what’s the interest in mentioning this? Well it is this: When the regiment was about to depart for home in 1853, Nolan obtained leave to precede it to Europe. After a bit of spying for Britain in Russia, he was sent to purchase horses for the army for the Crimean campaign. Nolan travelled around Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. ‘He arrived in Varna, Bulgaria… with nearly 300 animals.’ For once Britain and France were not fighting each other; they had come to the aid of the Ottoman Turks in their fight against an expansionary Imperial Russia. Nolan was made aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Richard Airey.  On 25 October 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava, it was Captain Nolan who brought the message from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan which read:

Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate.

Raglan’s idea was to have the cavalry prevent the Russians taking away the naval guns from the redoubts that they had captured on the reverse side of the Causeway Heights, the hill forming the south side of the valley. Lucan was unclear what the order meant and asked Nolan for clarification. Nolan is reputed to have replied, ‘Lord Raglan’s orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately.’ Lucan replied, ‘Attack, sir! Attack what? What guns, sir? Where and what to do?’

There, my Lord! There is your enemy! There are your guns!

Nolan is said to have indicated, by a wide sweep of his arm, not the Causeway redoubts but the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away.

So Lucan ordered Lord Cardigan, the officer commanding the Light Brigade, to charge straight at the Russian guns. So began The Charge of the Light Brigade, when just over 600 British cavalry charged straight at the main Russian cannons, into the ‘Valley of Death’. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Captain Lewis Nolan was one of the first to die in the charge. One historian writes:

After delivering the order telling Lord Lucan, the Cavalry Division commander, to attack “the guns,” Nolan joined his friend, Captain William Morris, Acting Commander, 17th Lancers.  Although a staff officer, Nolan was determined not to be left out of this action.  As the Light Brigade advanced, Nolan was seen to ride forward on his own.  His reasons are the subject of vast controversy and much speculation.  In any event, his audacity didn’t last long.  He was struck in the chest by a piece of shrapnel, making him one of the first casualties of the charge.

Nolan, or perhaps only his body, remained upright in the saddle.  The horse veered right, then back through the advancing line of the 13th Light Dragoons, the horse’s former regiment.  After passing through the lines, Captain Nolan finally fell to the ground, but his gallant horse was not through.  Troop Sergeant Major John Linkon of the 13th had just lost his horse.  He managed to mount Nolan’s horse and rode after his regiment.  Thus, although Captain Nolan did not complete the famous charge, his horse did.

After the debacle, his superiors, probably unjustly, put the blame on Nolan. The French General Bosquet, who witnessed the charge, commented: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre’: c’est de la folie’. (‘It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.’)

Such was the fate of the man under whom Thomas Grisdale had served for so many years in India. But unlike his former officer, Grisdale had avoided the Valley of Death (the 15th weren’t actually there). He left the army in 1853 and with his young family made his way to Melbourne in Australia.

Before I tell of this let us go back a little to Thomas’s roots and the facts of his family. Thomas was the third child of Lancashire cotton weaver Thomas Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Crossley. He was born in 1804 in Bolton. In previous articles I have tried to show what became of several of his close relatives who had also left England and some who stayed. Among his close relatives was his brother, the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850, and his two nephews, John and Jonathan, who “went America”.  His uncle  Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His cousin John emigrated to Sydney and his more distant cousin also called John became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop!  His uncle George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. I will tell their story at a later date. Every single one of these people was a descendant of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Dockray, Matterdale, Cumberland.

Madras 1850

Madras 1850

When Thomas arrived in India in 1839 he was a single man of 35. But while stationed in Bangalore he married the locally born Mary Cartwright, the daughter of army farrier William Cartwright and his wife Jane. The marriage took place on 5 January 1847 in Bangalore’s Holy Trinity Church. Three Indian-born children were to follow: Thomas (1848), Jane (1850) and William (1852).

Throughout his time in India the British army (or the army of the East India Company to be more precise) had been involved in many nasty little wars, for example the early Sikh and Afghan wars. But these all took place in the north of the country and because Thomas’s regiment were based in the south it seems he took no part in them. I would like to know if this was not the case.

Whatever the case, in 1853, having recently left the army, he, his wife Mary and their two children (Thomas junior had died just before they left) boarded the ship Strathfieldsaye bound for Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. We don’t know why the family chose to go to Melbourne but we can make a good guess. The Victoria gold rush had just started and there is no doubt that news of diggers becoming immensely wealthy would have reached India. So perhaps Thomas wanted to see if he too could strike it rich. The family arrived in Melbourne harbour in November 1853.

Victoria Gold Diggers

Victoria Gold Diggers

Things then go a little dark, but not completely dark. Maybe initially Thomas got work in the Melbourne docks, where he later worked, we don’t know. Yet it is certain that he pretty soon tried his luck in the rough and tumble of Victoria’s gold diggings. The family moved to Heathcote, a gold rush town 110 kms north of Melbourne. Two more children were born there: Elizabeth in 1855 and Caroline in 1857. Heathcote itself had ‘developed on the back of a series of gold rushes along McIvor Creek commencing in 1851. One of the major strikes (1852) was a Golden Gully, behind the old courthouse’.

At the peak of the gold rushes there were up to 35,000 people, largely housed in tents and shanties on the fields. 3,000 Chinese walked to the digging from Robe in South Australia where they had disembarked to avoid paying a tax levied upon Chinese disembarking in Victoria. There were at least 3 breweries; 22 hotels; 2 flour mills, reflecting the emergence of wheat growing in the district; a bacon factory, hospital, banks and several wineries.

What sort of life did the family have in Heathcote? Perhaps we can get some idea from letters sent home by other immigrants who had done the same thing at the same time. In May 1855 Alma digger P.H. Brain wrote home to a friend:

There is no friends here, everyone for his self and the biggest rogue – the best man, that is the principle that the colony is carried on, by most people rich and poor. I am happy to say I have never wanted for anything since I have been in the colony, although I have seen more in want than ever I have in England. I have many times thought of you staying in England, I would rather live in England with one meal a day, than here with all the best in the world as there is no comfort to be had here day or night, for by day you are poisoned by dust and flies and by night perhaps nearly blown out of your bed, if it may be so called. Although I have got a feather bed, I cannot sleep…

I should not advise anyone to come out here, although I do not wish to keep them away but I am sure there is nothing to be obtained here but at the risk of your life and hard work and no comfort. You would be surprised perhaps if I say I work 60 or 70 feet underground and have got to sink the hole first. I can assure you that it is the case, one sometimes would sink 10 or a dozen of these and not see gold. I have got a hundred pounds and obliged to spend it nearly all before I could get any more, so you see it’s not all profit. The hole is sunk like a well on, a chain of 24 feet square. You must not have any more than that at any one time but you can sink as many as you want. Where you have sunk one of these holes you try 3 or 4 inches of dirt at the bottom, it is put into a tub and washed so as to wash off the dirt and leave the gravel in the bottom and from thence into a tin dish and divide the gold from the gravel, if there be any. If not you must wash it so before you can tell. So you see what work it is to get gold. I have sunk 10 or 15 before I have seen it and perhaps many around me getting it. I am thinking I shall send you and your dear wife a small nugget, so as you can say you have got some, as I may never have it in my power to bring it personally. If so I have to be more pleased to do so in a larger quantity wont if not to be a pleasure to me once more to see my friends in England all well, which I hope very much is the case now.

James Douglas Ferguson wrote to his parents in 1854 from McIvor (Heathcote):

Gold Rush Camp

Gold Rush Camp

We all live in tension the diggings that you will know I should not think there is a man on the diggings but has a brace of pistols ready for action under his head every night. I have 3 dogs round our tent there is nothing in the shape of beast or body can get near the tent for them, any one was to lay me down £20 for the 3 I would not take it. Some time ago these two men on horseback stuck us up. My dog did his duty she got one of them to an out she made him ten thousand murders. I like a fool had not my pistol charged, perhaps just as well it was not for I should have fired as sure as I am writing this letter to you, anyone comes round your tent at night you are justifiable in shooting them, this was between 12 and 1 o’clock in the morning. I got up and opened the tent door and give my faithful old dog the word of command and got the axe for a weapon myself, I darted out from the side of the tent and got a slip at one of them with the axe, the next moment the dog made the other shout like a bull they did not know that I was up ready to receive them. The wife and children screaming, the dogs barking. People came rushing from all quarters, believe me the fellow would not forget that blow I gave him for sometime. You know I am pretty sharp mettle when set on my pins. They were both armed with pistols but had not time to make use of them. We let them go quietly as there might be a party and some of them come at another time and call on us.

Such was probably the Grisdales’ life in the gold diggings. Thomas must have found some gold; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to support his family for several years. But he clearly hadn’t struck it rich. The family moved back to Sandridge, Melbourne, where the couple’s next children were born:  Thomas (1859), Joseph (1861), Mary (1863), Isaac (18660 and Sarah (1869).

It is only in Melbourne that we start to find actual reports of Thomas and some of his family. The first to appear in the Melbourne Argus on Tuesday 12 September 1865 concerned Thomas himself:

At the Sandridge Police Court yesterday; before Mr. Call, P.M., an old man named Thomas Grisdale, charged with stealing fish, the property of James Lewis, was sentenced to be locked up until the rising of the Court.

Four years later, after having borne ten children, Thomas’s wife Jane died on 24 April 1869 as a result of giving birth to her last child Sarah, who herself died three  days later. On 26 April the Argus reported:

At Sandridge yesterday, the city coroner held an inquiry respecting the death of Mary Grisdale, who had died on the day previous somewhat suddenly. She had been prematurely confined on Saturday last, and from that time until Wednesday was progressing very favourably. On that morning, however, she was seized with sudden illness. Her husband went for the purpose of procuring medical assistance, but before he returned her life had expired. From the medical testimony, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased died from fatty degeneration of the heart.

After Jane’s death it seems that some of her children had to resort to begging. On Wednesday 22 February 1871 the Argus reported:

Sandridge. – On Monday, before Messrs. Molifson (?). P.M., Curtis, and Barker, Caroline Grisdale, a girl from 14 to 15 years old, was charged with stealing a pair of drawers. The prisoner went to Mary Clyans, wife of Michael Clyans, to beg, and Mrs. Clyans took her into her service. At the end of a week the prisoner left, and several articles of clothing were missed at the same time. The prisoner next went to a Mrs. Elizabeth Foley to beg for bread. Mrs Foley gave her 3 1/2d. to buy a loaf for herself and sisters, and the prisoner in return, offered the drawers, which she said belonged to her sister. The prisoner’s father, who described himself as a “lumper” appeared in court, but had nothing to say except that his daughter did not beg, or at least had no occasion to. The Bench sentenced the girl to 24 hours’ imprisonment, and to two years’ confinement in the reformatory, with a recommendation to the police to sec that Grisdale paid for his daughter’s maintenance.

Caroline was to marry John Berkley David O’Neill in 1877. One of Caroline’s sisters was Mary, who had been born in Sandridge in 1863. Later the same year, on 6 October 1871, we read:

A man named James Amos was charged at the police court, Drysdale, yesterday, with an attempt to commit a capital offence upon the person of a girl about 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale. The prisoner, who reserved his defence, was committed to take his trial at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.

And then the 12 October:

James Amos, an elderly man, was charged with having, on the 14th ult, indecently assaulted a little girl, under 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale, at Swan Bay. He pleaded “Not guilty,” and was undefended. The jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.”

James Amos would probably have been hung. Mary herself married James Broderick in 1882. The two other surviving sisters, Jane (born in 1850) married James McFarlane in 1874 and Elizabeth (born 1855) married Alfred James Fawcett in 1875.

But what of Thomas’ sons? Most either died in infancy or when young. Only one, William Grisdale, who had been born in India in 1852, seems to have lived long. In 1879 he married Elizabeth Corfield in Melbourne. They had one child, William James, but he soon died. Elizabeth herself died aged 22 in 1881, miles away in the mountain community of Hotham. In the Melbourne newspapers throughout the 1880s we find multiple reports of a man called William Grisdale. Was this Thomas and Jane’s son? I’ll return to this question. But first, in September 1881, the Sandridge Court tried ‘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.

In May 1882 ‘two wharf loafers, named James Sullivan and William Grisdale’ were charged with ‘ feloniously stealing’ silk dresses and other articles and selling them on in Sandridge. Grisdale claimed they belonged to his wife. In January 1884 ‘two young men named William Hilton 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 boots…. 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’.

Given the fact that these crimes took place or were tried in Sandridge, where the Grisdale family lived, it would seem to indicate that the ‘wharf loafer’ William Grisdale was indeed Thomas and Jane’s son. I think he probably was. But a little later in May 1887 the Argus reported:

About midnight on Tuesday Constable Lockhart observed a powerfully built half-caste named William Grisdale accosting a woman, and demanding money from her. When refused he struck the woman a violent blow and knocked her down. The constable arrested the man, who resisted most violently, striking him on the face and kicking him on various parts of the body. The prisoner had a very bad record, and he was fined £5, or in default three months’ imprisonment, at the City Court on Wednesday.

This can’t have been Thomas and Jane’s William, who was not a half-caste. So who could it have been?

Boundary Rider's Hut

Boundary Rider’s Hut

Was he an illegitimate son of Thomas Grisdale conceived with an aboriginal mother while Thomas moved around the gold diggings or later on back in Melbourne? Surely his father must have been a Grisdale? In the early years after 1853 there were probably only two Grisdale families in Victoria. I wrote about one before. This was the family of William Grisdale who arrived in Melbourne in the same year as Thomas. The family settled near Mansfield and worked in and around the gold digs situated there. And as far as we know that is where he stayed.

We also find other ‘criminal’ Grisdales in the Melbourne courts. One a ‘Singhalese’ called John Grisdale (this means a half caste from Ceylon or south India) and a mysterious Arthur Grisdale. Somebody was putting himself about!

Finally in 1924 on the electors’ list for Willaura we find a William Burrumbeep Grisdale working as a ‘boundary rider’ – that is maintaining fences on a sheep or cattle ranch. Burrumbeep itself is not far from Willaura and had a gold rush of its own. It would be tempting to relate this man with the half-caste in Melbourne in 1887, but maybe the possible ages would tell against it?

Actually I believe that sometime after his wife’s death William Grisdale headed out west to help build the Goldfields’ Water Pipeline to Perth and later became a bullock driver. But that’s for another time.

Railway pier sandridge 1858

Railway Pier Sandridge 1858

Returning to firmer ground; where did Thomas and his family live in Melbourne and what did he do? I mentioned already that after coming back from Heathcote the family settled in Sandridge. Referring to the arrival of William Free’s family in 1853, the same year as Thomas, one writer says:

They were landed not at a wharf but on a beach – Liardet’s Beach or Sandridge as the respectable classes preferred to call it – at which there were present some ramshackle buildings, but no quay, no warehouses, no merchants, and no shade in which the women and children could rest while the men looked for transport. The shore up to the high-water mark was lined with broken drift spars and oars, discarded ship-blocks, mattresses and pillows, empty bottles, ballast kegs, and sundry other items of flotsam. The township of Melbourne was out of sight, some eight miles distant by river and three across land.

Sandridge became Melbourne’s second port – taking the name Port Melbourne. ‘For many years Port Melbourne was a focus of Melbourne’s criminal underworld, which operated smuggling syndicates on the docks. The old Ships Painters and Dockers Union was notorious for being controlled by gangsters. The Waterside Workers Federation, on the other hand, was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Australia.’

We know that Thomas worked as a coal ‘lumper’ in Sandridge port. Margo Beasley, Australia’s expert on coal lumpers, writes: ‘Unlike wharf labourers, who shifted all manner of cargoes between ship and shore, coal lumpers worked exclusively on coal and most, but not all, of that work took place out ‘in the stream’ as they put it… some distance from the wharves…  coal lumpers saw themselves as akin to miners rather than wharf labourers and their main task was to move the coal from colliers or hulks that brought it…  into other vessels.’

Coal lumpers at work

Coal lumpers at work

There were five categories of coal lumping work. The shovellers, winchdrivers and planksmen worked on the collier or hulk that was carrying and discharging the coal, and carriers and trimmers worked on the ship that was receiving the coal or being ‘coaled’. Coal lumpers’ tools were basic: shovels, baskets, boots, ropes and their own brute strength. The ‘gear’ on the collier, which included winch, rope (called the ‘fall’) and baskets, had to be rigged so that the coal could be shifted from down below up to a suitable level on the deck for moving it into the ship that was to be coaled. The baskets were attached to a hook, which was fastened to the fall, which was run through a pulley and a winch on the deck above the hold.

Beasley describes coal lumpers’ working conditions as ‘Dantesque’. She writes:

Billy Hughs, who later became Prime Minister of Australia, was president of the Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union in 1905, and also its advocate. He said coal lumping work ‘finds out the weak places in a man. If a man has a weak spot in his heart, lungs or back, or … say his nervous system is not all that it should be, he falls out.’ Hughes argued that only the very strong remained in the work and coal lumpers aged 45 or 50 were simply ‘the strongest who have survived’, by natural selection.

Indeed, many men tried the work for a week or two, and even an hour or two, but they couldn’t last. One coal lumper said that some men were forced to leave the work because they because they had started at too hard a pace and they were unable to keep going. Hughes judged that no other occupation called for the exercise of greater physical strength and endurance, supporting his assertion with two illustrations. Employers were unable to get sufficient men who could do coal lumping satisfactorily, or even unsatisfactorily, during strikes and lockouts; and the work necessitated certain conditions that didn’t occur in any other trade: paid two hourly breaks, because a spell was ‘absolutely essential for recuperation and food and rest.

Coal Lumpers

Coal Lumpers

Such was the hard and dangerous life of Thomas Grisdale. The son of a Bolton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales. A man who had spent years serving Queen and country in India. A man who had been under the command of Captain Nolan who became famous for ‘starting’ the Charge of the Light Brigade. A man who had tried his luck in Australia only to spend the rest of his life lumping coal in the docks. A man who just might have sired one or more half castes while looking for gold. Such I’m afraid was the fate of many, indeed most, of the common soldiers who served Her Majesty throughout most of British history. A fate in stark contrast to that of the wealthy officer class.

Thomas Grisdale died aged 74 on 28 February 1879, at 11 Montague Street, Emerald Hill in Melbourne.

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

In the nineteenth century enormous numbers of British people left to try to find a better life overseas. Most went to Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia. Some prospered, some didn’t. One who did was William Grisdale, the son of a Bolton cotton weaver who took his family to Sydney in 1842 when William was just seven. Starting as a bootmaker and pawnbroker William was to become a successful businessman and stood for the New South Wales Parliament. This is his story.

Sydney Cove 1842

Sydney Cove 1842

The Sydney that greeted Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale and his family when they arrived on the ship Agnes on 15 February 1842 wasn’t the huge, sophisticated and cosmopolitan place we know today.  Even the official History of Sydney City Council describes it thus:

The ‘City of Sydney’ of 1842 was little more than an unruly village of dusty poorly lit lanes and unhygienic dwellings. There was no water or sanitation system. Cattle were routinely driven through the streets.

We don’t know the precise reasons why the Grisdale family decided to leave Bolton and make the long and arduous trip to Australia, although getting out of the Lancashire cotton mills would have been a ‘push’ enough in itself. It’s possible that Ann’s older brother Thomas Rostron had something to do with it. Thomas Rostron, his wife Alice and their daughter Mary had sailed from Liverpool on 14 September 1840, aboard the ship Brothers. They arrived at Port Jackson on 11 March 1841. Thomas was a bricklayer and publican but for a year “was employed by Mr. A. B. Smith of Smith’s Rivulet, Gammon Plains near Merriwa, New South Wales”. Maybe he had encouraged his sister to come to Australia as well and maybe he had even found them a sponsor?

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Sydney wasn’t a place that had much use for the cotton weaving skills that John Grisdale would have learnt in the dark satanic mills back in Lancashire. In fact, on the passenger list of the ship bringing the family as ‘assisted immigrants’ to Australia he listed his trade as ‘labourer’. He had undoubtedly said much the same on his application for assistance to emigrate. So he, and later his two sons, William and Levi, would have to turn their hands to whatever they could if they were to survive and even prosper. This, as we shall see, they did.

Before I tell the family’s story in Australia, let me first place them in England.

John Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in August 1809. He was the fourth child of Bolton cotton weaver Robert Grisdale and his first wife Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Shaw. On 28 December 1832, John married Ann Rostron in Bolton. Two living children followed: William, born in 1834, and Levi, born in 1837. Two other sons, both named Thomas, died in infancy. In 1841, John was living with his family in Bradshawgate, Bolton, surrounded by cotton mills.

John’s father Robert Grisdale (1775-1840) was the son of Joseph Grisdale and his wife Ann Temple, who lived in Dockray in Matterdale, Cumberland. Yes of course it all goes back to Matterdale! Some of Robert’s siblings and relations were to venture all over the world. His brother Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His brother George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. I will tell their story at a later date. The son of Robert’s brother Thomas was called Doctor Grisdale and he went to the Pennsylvania cotton mills, his family eventually ending up in Oregon. This Thomas was also the father of John Grisdale whose two sons, John and Jonathan, also went to Pennsylvania to work in the cotton mills there. Another of Thomas’s sons, also called Thomas, went via India to Melbourne in Australia where he became a ‘coal lumper’ in the docks. And finally, Robert’s son Robert by his second wife Hannah Bolton was to have a son called John who became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop! I hope you’re not getting lost? I think I am.

Little could Joseph and Ann Grisdale of Matterdale have known that so many of their descendants would spread out all over the world! Of course the majority would remain in England, many in Cumberland and Bolton, and their lives and struggles were no less courageous and worthy of attention than those of those who ventured overseas.

221 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

121 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

But let’s return to our John Grisdale. John and his family’s passage had been paid for or sponsored by Mr. G. Townsend, a farmer in Patterson. It’s possible, though not certain, that the family spent their first couple of years in Australia helping on his farm. The first thing we know for sure about them is that they were soon living at 121 Sussex Street in Sydney and John had a pawnbroking and auctioneering business – we know he also worked as a bootmaker. But John wasn’t averse to the main chance and in the early 1850s there was a gold rush in New South Wales as well as in Victoria. Was John tempted to try his luck? It seems he was.  There is an account of a trial in Sydney in September 1851 in which we hear for the first time a little of the Grisdale family’s life:

Stealing a shawl – On Monday, a woman named Catherine Lawler was placed at the bar, charged with having forcibly stolen a shawl, from the person of Mary Gorman, in the public streets on Thursday last. According to the desposition of the prosecutrix, it appeared that on the day in question, the prisoner snatched the shawl, valued at ten shillings, from her shoulders, and threw it on the ground and trampled upon it. Prisoner subsequently took it into her own house, and it was discovered to have been pledged at a pawnbroker’s named Grisdale, in Sussex-street, by a woman named Williams, a friend of the prisoner’s. The prisoner was remanded until yesterday for the evidence of the pawnbroker, when she was again placed at the bar, and, the Police Magistrate enquiring if the pawnbroker was in attendance, a smart, dapper little lad, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, made his debut in the witness-box, when the following dialogue ensued – Police Magistrate -“-Why, you are not, a pawnbroker?” Witness – ” No; but Pa is though.” P.M. – “What is your name, and where is your father?” Witness – “My name is William Grisdale, and Pa is gone to the diggings, and I am carrying on his business.” The witness, being sworn, deposed that the shawl produced was pawned on Friday Iast, for one shilling, by a woman named Williams. The duplicate was produced, and appeared to be improperly written, Mr., instead of Mrs. Williams, being represented as the person to whom the loan had been made. The Police Magistrate directed the attention of Mr. Inspector Wearing to the duplicate, by which the pawnbroker was liable to have an information filed against him, for a breach of the Licensed Pawnbrokers’ Act, his Worship remarking, that if the pawnbrokers thought proper to go to the mines, they ought at least to leave proper persons to transact their business.

New South Wales Gold Diggers

New South Wales Gold Diggers

Gold had been discovered in New South Wales before but only in 1851 did the finds become public knowledge. One historian of the Gold Rush tells us:

The first widely known and officially acknowledged gold find was made by John Lister and William Tom at Ophir in April 1851… The find was proclaimed on 14 May 1851 starting Australia’s first gold rush. Gold was subsequently found in 1851 in the Bathurst-Orange area at Hill End-Tambaroora, Hargraves, Lucknow, Sofala-Turon and Tuena. Further afield, major gold finds were made in the 1850s at Araluen and Majors Creek near Braidwood, at Adelong, and at Hanging Rock near Nundle.

The gold rushes caused many social and economic problems. Bathurst was practically abandoned by able workers during the Ophir rush, while riots broke out on the Turon in 1853 and again at Lambing Flat in 1860-61. Food and common necessities became scarce and expensive with many merchants making more money than the majority of the diggers. In an effort to gain some control on the Government unsuccessfully banned the sale of alcohol. The era became known as ‘the Roaring Days’.

John certainly didn’t stay away too long digging for gold and he certainly didn’t strike it rich. The years passed and then a funny thing happened. It seems John, and probably his wife Ann too, decided to return to England. This probably happened in the late 1850s. But why? Why go back to the squalor and exploitation of the Bolton mills? For that is what John did. We don’t know. All we do know is that by 1861 John was back in Shaw Street, Bolton, living with his brother Thomas and sister Elizabeth Ruffley (nee Grisdale), and working once again as a weaver. He was by this time widowed. Where and when and how his wife Ann had died is unknown. John remained in Bolton for nine more years. In 1861 his next door but one neighbour in Shaw Street was a certain charwoman called Ellen Hendry (nee Goth). When Ellen’s husband Richard Hendry died in April 1861 she and John Grisdale soon married – in 1862. 61 year old Ellen Grisdale was to die of ‘cardiac disease’ on 13 July 1869 at the couple’s new home at 25 Back Defence Street, just around the corner from Shaw Street. News of Ellen’s death somehow reached Sydney and this rather perplexing notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 October 1869:

DEATHS. At her residence, Back Defence-street, Bolton, Lancashire, England, ELLEN, the beloved wife of JOHN GRISDALE, formerly of Sydney, and mother of William and Levy Grisdale, auctioneers, of Pitt-street.

Who had supplied this information to the newspaper? What sort of confusion or dissimilation was at play? Because of course Ellen was not William and Levi’s mother. That was Ann Rostron, and she had died somewhere in the world years earlier. Perhaps this is a mystery we will never solve.

SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

With nothing now to keep him in Bolton, John wasted no time in returning to his now married sons in Sydney. He arrived in Melbourne from Liverpool on the famous ship S S Great Britain – the largest and most advanced ship in the world – on 5 December 1870. He quickly boarded another ship, the Alexandra, and reached Sydney on 9 December 1870. Enough of cotton weaving; John could now live out the rest of his days with his increasingly prosperous sons and their families. John was to live to the age of 88. He died on 1 September 1897 at 32 Mount Street, Pyrmont, NSW.

But what of John’s sons: William and Levi? William, the “smart, dapper little lad” of 1851, had married Catherine Craig on 26 February 1856 in Sydney. Descendants believe that his father John was present at the marriage – before his return to Bolton. Three daughters were to follow: Ann Jane (1857), Agnes (1859) and Louisa (1861). Levi married Catherine McFarlane in Sydney in 1869, a year before father John’s return. Levi and Catherine had four children: Charles John (1870), Arnold Levi (1871), William McFarlane (1874) and Catherine (1876).

When John had gone back to England it seems that his son William took over his pawnbroking and auctioneering business. But in earlier years he had also worked, like his father John, as ‘writing clerk’ and bootmaker. He advertised regularly in Sydney for his boot and shoe business. Here is one such advert from December 1859, when William was just 25:

WANTED to be known that W. GRISDALE is selling every description of BOOTS and SHOES cheaper than any other house in Sydney. Storekeepers, and heads of families would do well to give a call before they make their CHRISTMAS PURCHASES, as they can be supplied with every article in the trade very cheap. One trial will prove the fact. Remember the address, W. GRISDALE, No. ll. New Market buildings, George-street, the last shop but one.

Throughout these early years, the family lived at 57 Gloucester Street in Sydney. Sadly, on a personal level, tragedy was soon to strike. William’s wife Catherine died on 26 May 1864 – aged just 32. William was to remarry in 1868. His new wife was Georgina Bartley (nee Ternouth), a widow with two sons and one daughter. They were to have seven children together, first in Sydney and later in Newcastle: Emily (1869), Alice Maud (1870), Georgina (1873), Ada Maud (1875), William Alfred (1876), George Arthur (1878) and Henry James (1880). In his last years in Sydney, William lived and carried on his business in Pitt Street.

William Grisdale

William Grisdale

During his years as a Sydney auctioneer and pawnbroker life wasn’t always plain sailing for William. We know from various court records and newspaper reports that he went bankrupt twice. But being a good Lancashire lad he always bounced back.

William had gone into partnership in his auctioneering business with John Proctor Lister; the firm was called Lister and Grisdale. In early 1872, the murders of two men occurred at Parramatta River. The bodies were found dumped in the river, weighed down with stones and scalped. Before the culprits – Nichols and Lester – were tried, a newspaper wrote breathlessly:

During the four weeks just past, we have to use the words of Macbeth, “supped full with horrors.” While we were all at our usual avocations, trafficking, haggling, boasting, eating, drinking, and sleeping, two at least, of the most diabolical murders on record, were committed at our very doors. Murders, moreover, betraying, as a thoughtful contemporary points out, some recognition of physical science; a thorough deliberation of plan; a mechanical impassibility of purpose; and an utter oblivion of the chances, or a carelessness as to the consequences, of detection. When it is added that the apparent motive for their commission appears to have been cupidity—cupidity, too, of the meanest kind—the almost unparalleled wickedness of the murders is at once seen in all its hideous nakedness.

What was William Grisdale’s involvement?  Well it seems that Lister and Grisdale had been asked by the police to keep their eyes open for the suspects, perhaps they would try to sell the murdered men’s goods, and when they did come into their auction house the partners informed the police. William himself stated in the trial:

They came in a spring cart with a three-bushel bag with clothes in, a blanket, and a horse-hair bag, also two pair of boots which were in the bag.

When they returned to collect the proceeds of the sale, they were arrested. Nichols and Lester were “hung at Darlinghurst Gaol in front of a very large audience”. Just a normal day in the rough and tumble of colonial Sydney!

Ships in Newcastle NSW

Ships in Newcastle NSW

In 1873 William decided to move up the coast to the growing port of Newcastle, New South Wales. It seems his auctioneering business flourished there. He got involved in local politics and “on three occasions he was elected as an Alderman of Newcastle City Council, representing Honeysuckle Ward”. Here is just one example of the things William got involved in; it is a letter written to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in August 1880. I quote it in full because not only does it tell us something about William but also a little of the life and commerce in Newcastle at the time. It is titled Newcastle and the Government:

Sir, I was rather surprised at Mr. W. Gilroy’s letter, in your paper on the 25th ultimo, with reference to the great indulgences that Newcastle has received from the Government. I think I shall be able to show Mr. Gilroy the very reverse and that Newcastle has never received anything not absolutely necessary and required. I am willing to admit that the Government have built a magnificent wharf at Newcastle, and also at Bullock Island, and put a substantial engine-house and hydraulic-power engines and cranes at the latter place; but at the same time I can prove that they receive a larger percentage from them than they do for any other work they have in the colony.

It is a fact beyond doubt that the Government charges four times the amount for haulage and shipping of coal that it costs the coal companies that ship at their own wharfs. The Government charge 10d per ton for haulage and shipping if the coal has not to be taken more than half-a-mile. The Waratah Company, and J. and A. Brown, can do the same over a distance of six miles, pay all expenses, and allow for wear and tear, at a cost of under 21/2d. per ton. If the Government have made the improvements, they make the shippers pay pretty well for it. I wish to know in what way we are like spoiled children? I think the reverse. If Mr. Gilroy will see the difference between the prices charged by the too indulgent Government and those that are the actual costs by private firms, and also know that an average of 20,000 tons of coal is shipped weekly here, he will see that we pay pretty well for any little improvement we got. I am sure there is no one would grumble at a legitimate wharfage rate, but not such a rate us the one now in force; it might do very well for Sydney, where there are so many private wharfs that the rates will not be collected. And it certainly seems very strange to me that the present law is six months’ old but was never put into force until the Grafton Wharf changed hands, and I do not think the rates will be collected there.

I am sure that the coal interest pays the Government the best interest they receive in the colony. It is acknowledged by the present Government that our railways within a radius of twelve miles of the port, are the best paying of any in New South Wales – the other indulgences that Mr. Gilroy speaks of. I should like him to come up here and see our grand public buildings, which are a disgrace to any city, and still we are getting everything done for us. There is one thing very certain, that until we get some of the Sydney influences, so that we shall be able to have direct imports and exports, we shall always be looked upon as black sheep. It is a well-known fact that Newcastle is the depot for the reception of the produce of the Northern district, and 100,000 bales of wool are grown and sent down annually. It is only right we should be in a position to ship it direct from here, but you will see the disadvantages the Northern squatter has to any other. Every bale of wool has to be sent to Sydney, and what with freights and other charges it costs the squatters £25,000 per annum, that ought to be left, or most of it, in this city.

A short time ago a firm here applied to this too-indulgent Government for the lease for twenty-one years of a piece of land to erect a wool store, which would cost the firm about £4000 to erect. They were told that they could have a lease for five years, which was very naturally rejected, and it was impossible to purchase at any price; so you see there is more Sydney influence. If we could ship our own wool, tallow, copper, tin, hides, &c, it would ¡materially interfere with your Sydney merchants, and that is the reason they are trying to do all they can to stop every industry. But the time will come yet. It is only a short time since this indulgent Government tried to impose the wool and coal taxes. Everybody knows the fate of them; and now they are trying to do something worse by the wharfage rates, for this is threepence per ton for receiving, and sixpence per ton for delivering, if you use the Government wharfs; and we have no other here, except the A. A. Company’s. I have always thought that ours was a Free-trade Government, but this tariff is protection in its very worst form; we should be better off with an ad valorem duty, and then all would pay alike, and not cripple any single industry. Trusting I have not taken up too much of your valuable space. I am, &c,

William Grisdale. Newcastle. August 26.

Besides William’s genuine interest in the welfare of his town of Newcastle, I think one can surmise two things from this letter. First, his own involvement in the shipping and trading to which he refers and, second, his growing involvement in politics. With regard to the former, William had used his success as an auctioneer to move into shipping. He had at least two ships.

In 1875 he ordered a 27 ton 17 metre ketch from the Newcastle shipbuilder Peter Callen. Its name was Colleen Bawn. But shipping was dangerous:

On 4 December 1877, the Colleen Bawn (Capt. Glendenning) was on voyage from Port Stephens to Sydney with a cargo of timber and 1 passenger and a crew of 3, when she foundered (no known reason) off between Port Stephens and Sydney. All 4 died.

In 1877 William and two partners, Benjamin Lloyd and Ed Davies, commissioned the ship-building firm of William McPherson at Williams River, Eagleton, near Newcastle, to build a 38 ton, 23 metre ketch, which they christened Agnes – no doubt after the ship in which William and his family had arrived in 1842. The Agnes was wrecked in 1883 when it foundered off Jervis Bay, New South Wales.

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Regarding politics; as well as being an alderman, in 1882 William stood for the provincial New South Wales Parliament as a candidate in the Northumberland ward. Lyn Vincent, one of William’s descendants, writes:

After a bitterly fought campaign on the part of his opponent Mr. Hungerford a squatter, he was defeated. The newspaper reports of the day tell us that he was most brave and gallant in defeat. He was what today we would call “a good sport”.

What I particularly savour is a newspaper report of a nomination meeting and debate which took place in Newcastle in early 1882:

At the nomination for the Northumberland electorale… Mr Hungerford and Mr Grisdale were duly proposed. The former is a squatter, and well-known as an old member of Parliament. His opponent is new to politics, and is a pawnbroker, auctioneer, etc. During the speech of the latter – Mr Grisdale – a good deal of fun was caused by some of his remarks, and it is just worth quoting two passages from his oration. Being a money lender, the livening effect of the following parry may be understood: – He (Mr Grisdale) was in favour of the railways going the whole length of the Colony. – A Voice: “What for; to fetch the rags down?” – He did not think he would be able to lend much on the rags of the last speaker. Further on an elector asked: “Would you be in favour of an absentee or a property tax?” – Mr Grisdale: “I would tax them both.” (Laughter) – But the climax was reached when the orator was about finishing, when an elector asked: “Would you vote for taxing cereals coming into this country? – Mr Grisdale: “I am in favour of putting a tax on Chinamen, and always was.” (Roars of laughter). The elector: “I didn’t say Chinese; I said cereals.” – Mr Grisdale: “Who are they?” – (Renewed laughter and general confusion) – The question having been explained, Mr Grisdale said he would let flour come in as free as possible.

A real touch of the Lancastrian turned Australian I think. Lyn Vincent writes:

Unfortunately not many days after this (election) defeat, William became ill while on business in the “Metropolis” (Sydney). After resting in Sydney for a few days he returned to Newcastle only to have to take to his bed from which he never rose again. He died on 13 February 1882, two days short of being in the colony for 40 years…  Obituaries and testimonials of the day give a glowing report of a man who was not only a great loss to his beloved wife and twelve children, but also to his many friends and acquaintances in Newcastle and Sydney.

I quote part of just one such obituary:

Our readers will learn with regret that the hopes entertained of the recovery of our late esteemed fellow citizen, Mr. W. Grisdale, have proved futile, that gentleman having died of congestion of the brain last evening, at ten minutes to seven. Alderman Grisdale’s decease, although not unexpected, has produced a painful depression throughout the large and varied circle in which he moved… After various successful business enterprises in the metropolis, he arrived in Newcastle in 1874, and commenced business as an auctioneer and estate agent, in which he was remarkably successful. He had been one of the aldermen for Honeysuckle ward for two years, was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and an active officer of the Newcastle Jockey Club. Mr. Grisdale also had a very active interest in all matters relative to the public good and the welfare of the city…

Mr. Grisdale has left behind him an unsullied name, which will be held in sad remembrance by a very numerous circle of friends.

William Grisdale, son of a Bolton cotton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales, is buried in the Sandgate Cemetery (Methodist Section) in Newcastle with his wife Georgina and his step-daughter, Mary Bartley.

What a remarkable life! It makes most of our’s look positively dull.

There is a little mystery about William Grisdale, told to me by his Australian descendants. Was there a Jewish connection? Supposedly William’s grandson – in – law Benjamin Manning used to look up at William’s picture on the wall and comment: “Look at old Reuben looking down on us”. There was other family talk as well about William having a Jewish connection. Was this just due to his brother’s name Levi? Such names were common in the Grisdale family and elsewhere – they were biblical Old Testament names. Was it because he was a ‘money-lender’? Was there a Jewish connection from his mother’s or grandmother’s side?  As far as I know the Grisdales were all straight forward Anglican Christians – though some became Methodists – so if there is a Jewish connection I don’t know what it is? Maybe you do?