Archive for the ‘Australian Gold Rush’ Category

In an earlier article called A Hussar in India – Thomas Grisdale, I left ex-hussar Thomas Grisdale and his family aboard the ship Strathfieldsaye en route from Madras to 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 Arthur (1866) and Sarah (1869).

Sandridge circa 1858

Sandridge circa 1858

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.

Shortly after this it seems that Thomas and his children moved from Sandridge a short distance across the water to Swan Bay.

Swan Bay, Melbourne

Swan Bay, Melbourne

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 defense, was committed to take his trial at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.

And then the 12 October 1871:

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.”

I’ll tell more of this trial for attempted rape in a future article about Thomas’s children.

The Argus reported on Friday 23 January 1874:

DRYSDALE POLICE COURT.

Drunkenness and Obscene Language. Police v Collins.—Superintendent Furnell appeared to prosecute, and Mr McCormick for the defence. Defendant was summoned for allowing’drunkenness in his house, and for using obscene language. Thos. Grisdale said he was at defendant’s house on the night of the 24th December, there were a lot of people there; some drunk and some sober. Defendant said to me, “Your son got me fined £5 on one occasion”, and also called him some names. “He offered to fight me for £5, John Davis said-I was at the hotel on the night of the 24th ult. Butlerand Davis were there; they were prettywell on. I remember the constable coming there, but I do not recollect what he said. I heard the words complained of,”

William Grisdale—I am son of the first witness. I went to Collins on the 25th and asked him what be had said about me the night before. Collins said he was drunk, and did not know what he said, and wished to let the matter drop. The case as far as permitting drunkenness was not pressed farther, nor was evidence called as to the use of obscene language. Constable Muloahy—I was on duty on the night of the 24th. I heard Collins tell Grisdade that his son had caused him be fined £5, and offered to fight either him or his son for £5, at the same time calling him disgraceful names. Cross examined — I am not bringing these cases merely for the purpose of taking away his license. Collins told me he had been to Melbourne to try and get me removed, but did not succeed, and would go to Geelong.I asked him to give me time to bring these cases against him. Mr McCormick objected to tho wording of the summons, but this objection was overruled. Tho charge of allowing dancing was proceeded with. MrMcCormick contended that the bonch, as a Court of Petty Sessions, had no jurisdiction, it must be brought before the Licensing Magistrates. Objection allowed. Pined 40s and 30s costs.

On 16 May1874 the Geelong Advertiser reported:

Thomas Grisdale, on remand, was charged with stealing seven bags from Mr Levien, M.L.A. Mr Levien said—I have missed some bags within about two month, about two or three dozen Calcutta bags—new cornsacks. I kept them in a shed; I had openeda bale and missed two bundles containingabout twenty in each. The bags produced are of a similar description to those missed.The bag produced marked L has been my property, but I cannot say it has been stolen. I never gave prisoner authority to remove bags off my premises; the prisoner has been in my employ; he left my service about a month ago. To the prisoner—You did have two or three bags last year containing produce (flour and peas). I do not think it possible that the new bag produced is the one in which you had the produce. Joseph, Molden said—I live at Mr Levien’s farm. I identify the bag produced as Mr Levien’s property. I put that patch on it, but I cannot say when. Three other witnesses were examined, but they failed to substantiate the charge against the prisoner, and he was discharged.

Soon after this I believe Thomas moved back to Emerald Hill in south Melbourne.

Melbourne 1858

I mentioned already that after coming back from Heathcote the family settled in Sandridge in Melbourne. What was Melbourne like in those days? 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. 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.

 

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“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? This is the first part of the story of Thomas Grisdale, a son of an extended Bolton cotton weaving family who would end his days in Melbourne in Australia.

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”. 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 Indian 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.

See Thomas Grisdale in Melbourne – digging for gold and lugging coal.

 

In an earlier article I left the Bolton cotton bleacher and Indian missionary, the Rev. John Grisdale, at Liverpool docks in late April 1873. He was waiting with his new wife Ann and their infant son Robert Chaplin Grisdale to take ship to New York, from where they would travel overland to Rupert’s Land in Canada. Within a month they had arrived at the Church Missionary Society’s church of St. Andrews in the Red River Settlement.

The Manitoba Historical Society has this to say about John’s clerical career in Canada:

John Grisdale (1845-1922). Cleric.

Born at Lancashire, England on 25 June 1845, he spent five years in the C.M.S. College at Islington, London. He was ordained deacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in June 1870. He then spent a year doing missionary work in India, returning due to ill health. There he married Annie Chaplin. In May 1873, they emigrated to Canada and came to Winnipeg where he served as rector of Holy Trinity Church. He later held positions at Christ Church, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s College, canon of St. John’s Cathedral, and dean of Rupert’s Land. In 1879 he helped to found the Manitoba Historical Society.

He received a DD degree from the University of Manitoba in 1887. In 1896 he was elected Bishop of Qu’Appelle. He held the position until 1911 when he retired due to ill health. He died at his Winnipeg residence on 27 January 1922.

These are the bare facts, but let’s try to add some flesh to the bones.

St Andrew's Church, Manitoba

St Andrew’s Church, Manitoba

In my previous article I told that John was primarily a missionary. He had trained with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in London for five years before being sent to India where eventually the climate had proved unconducive to him. The CMS was primarily concerned with converting the ‘heathens’. By the way, the word ‘heathens’ was the one used by the CMS, whose whole purpose, which was very explicit, was to convert the native “heathens” – the religious care of colonists generally being left to the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), although the lines were often blurred. It was in this capacity that the CMS had sent him to Rupert’s Land. One month after leaving England, he and his wife and young son Robert arrived at the CMS mission in the Red River Settlement at St. Andrews, where his job was to be ministering to the Anglo-Métis community there.

As soon as he arrived John immediately wrote to Mr Wright, the secretary of the CMS in London:

St. Andrews, Lisgar, Manitoba, May 30, 1873.

My dear Mr. Wright

We arrived here on Saturday last, exactly a month from the date of sailing from Liverpool.

We are each of us in moderate health, and do feel deeply grateful to Him who has so abundantly answered the prayers of our many friends at home.

Our heavy luggage has not yet reached us, so that we feel a little unsettled.

The Bishop has himself instituted me at once, so that on Sunday I hope to have two services in the Church and one in the northern school. Dear Archdeacon Cowley has just said ‘Goodbye’ and is on his way to the Indian Settlement. He must have toiled very hard, too hard, during the vacancy. McDonald and Rayner have not yet reached us. The boats are going in about a fortnight. I hope shortly to write to you more fully.

With … Love and earnest prayers for God’s blessing on the Committee’s ‘plans & proceedings’.

Very truly yours

John Grisdale

Bishop Robert Machray

Bishop Robert Machray

The ‘Dear Archdeacon Cowley’ John refers to was Abraham Cowley who had first come as a CMS missionary to the Red River Settlement in 1841 and was by this time based at the ‘Original Indian Settlement of Western Canada’: St. Peter’s (in present-day Dynevor). The Bishop who had ‘instituted’ Grisdale was Robert Machray, who had been made Bishop of Rupert’s Land in 1865 and was to become the first Primate of All Canada in 1893. Machray would be John Grisdale’s friend, mentor and sponsor for many years.

Although John’s primary role was to minister to the Anglo-Métis community in St. Andrew’s, he obviously from time to time went to preach to the native Indians living at St. Peter’s Indian settlement, a thing he was to continue to do even after he had been elevated to higher positions within the Anglican Church. See for example my story of Alex Grisdale and his grandfather here.

But Bishop Machray had plans for the future organization of the Anglican Church in Rupert’s Land.

Owing to the statesmanlike plans of Bishop Machray, of Rupert’s Land, it was decided to divide the vast district, comprising more than one-half of all Canada, into separate dioceses. The Bishop realized that more effective supervision was needed in the large field, as the distances were too great for one man to think of undertaking. The distance from the Red River to the farthest posts on the Mackenzie River was as great as “from London to Mecca,” and it would have taken him two years to visit the northern posts with profit. Crossing to England, the Bishop set forth the proposal for the division of his diocese into four parts, which was accepted by all concerned.

The reduced Diocese of Rupert’s Land would comprise the new province of Manitoba and some adjacent districts; the coasts and environs of Hudson’s Bay would form the Diocese of Moosonee; the vast plains of the Saskatchewan, stretching westward to the Rocky Mountains, the Diocese of Saskatchewan; and the whole of the enormous territories watered by the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers, and such part of the Yukon basin as was within British territory, the Diocese of Athabasca.

The first St. John's Cathedral in Winnipeg

The first St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg

Machray also became the warden and headmaster of St. John’s College in Winnipeg in 1874 and he immediately made John Grisdale the Professor of Systematic Theology. And then on the 2nd of November 1874 Grisdale was made a canon of St. John’s Cathedral. Bishop Machray gave a long sermon in the cathedral on Grisdale’s inauguration. He said:

To those of you dear brethren who are Parishioners of St. John’s, the induction of Mr Grisdale can scarcely fail to have a lively interest, for in becoming one of the pastors of the Collegiate Church that has been established here – the Mother Church – the Cathedral Church of the Diocese – he will in a peculiar degree be a pastor of St. John’s Parish, as it is still intended that the Cathedral should partake of the character of a Parish church.

John’s rise had been rapid, all this had happened in eighteen months or so from his arrival in Canada. In 1875 Canon Grisdale was made secretary of the ‘First Provincial Synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s land’.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg in 1884

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg in 1884

As canon of St. John’s Cathedral, John took an interest in rebuilding Holy Trinity Church as well. He was appointed Rector of Holy Trinity:

On 8 April 1867 some of the residents of the small hamlet at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers met in the Court House to organize a parish, and a building committee was appointed. At first, religious services were held in the Court House, just outside the enclosure of Fort Garry, and afterwards in the upper level of Red River Hall near the corner of what are now Portage Avenue and Main Streets. The large numbers of people that crowded into this fragile structure required the use of wooden poles as temporary supports for the floor to prevent the assembled congregation from falling into the store below. The small congregation commenced work on building their own church at the corner of Avenue and Garry Street on land donated by the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, the enterprise was thwarted by a violent windstorm that destroyed the incomplete structure and killed a workman who was sleeping there overnight. Starting over, the congregation successfully completed a simple and unpretentious wooden structure that was opened for public worship in two services on 4 November 1868. The first vestry of the church that was constituted five days later included the rector, The Venerable Archdeacon John McLean, and other prominent members of the community.

By 1870 the church was already too small for the expanding congregation, so steps were taken to enlarge the building to accommodate 350 persons; this was accomplished by Christmas Day of that year. A later cleric, Rev. Canon Grisdale of St. John’s College, promoted a new church with a capacity for 450 worshippers; it was opened on 11 November 1875, when Rev. O. Fortin was inducted by the archbishop of Rupert’s Land, but only the chancel and transept were completed at that time.

John was also instrumental in founding Christ Church in Point Douglas, Winnipeg:

Christ Church began in 1875 as a Sunday school started by Rev. Canon J. Grisdale in the home of W.G. Fonseca in the Point Douglas district. The Sunday School was moved to a log building, known as the Sutherland House on the northeast corner of Henry Avenue and Main Street. Land was purchased from W.G. Fonseca in 1876 at the corner of Princess and Main. There a brick church was built and opened on 13 August 1876. The parish of Christ Church was officially formed that year as well. A new church was built on the corner of Princess and Higgins in 1881. It opened for service 24 November 1881.

When the church was first opened in 1876 the local newspaper carried this report:

Christ Church, Point Douglas

This handsome little Church will open for Divine service tomorrow afternoon, at half-past three o’clock, when the Lord Bishop of Rupert’s Land will preach. Rev. Precentor Beck will preside at the organ, and will be supported by a choir of St. John’s College boys.

A little more than a year ago the Rev. Canon Grisdale bought the block of land on which the church now stands for the Church Missionary Society, London; last year a substantial fence was put around it, also at the cosy of the Society; and this spring the church about to be opened was put up.

The cost of the building, exclusive of the inside fittings and furniture, was $2,300. Of this sum $300 has been received from England, and Rev, Canon Grisdale is confident that he will shortly receive the balance from the same source.

The building is 46 by 26 feet, built of wood with a veneering of white brick. It is intended as soon as the population of the city shall warrant it, to put up a large and substantial church edifice of either brick or stone, when the present building will be used as a school house.

Rev. Canon Grisdale went about the work of building this church in a quiet and unostentatious way, feeling that there was a need of a church in that part of the city where it is situated and he expresses himself gratified at the liberality with which he has been met on every hand. The carpet for the chancel and vestry rooms is a rich Brussels, of a pattern that corresponds finely with the inside painting, and is the gift of the Hon. Mr. Graham, Chief Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Messrs. Higgins, Young and Peebles present a beautiful crimson communion cloth. Two oak chairs for the chancel are the gift of Mrs. Wm. Besant. McMicken & Taylor give two four light chandeliers; and Kew, Stobart & Co. Furnish the necessary cocoanut matting for the aisles. A small harmonium made by Prince of Buffalo, was paid for by the contributions of Mrs. F. C. Mercer and Mr. W. H. Lyon, but it has not yet come to hand. Instead of a reading desk and pulpit, there is a double lectern, of oak, contributed by Bishop & Shelton; and the Bible, Prayer Book and Service Book – all beautifully bound – are the gift of the English Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The organ to be used tomorrow has been kindly lent for the occasion by Messrs. Cornell & Clements dealers in musical instruments in the city.

The contractor for the building was Mr. J. J. Johnston; the painting was done by Mr.Peter Stanley; the upholstery by Bishop & Shelton,; the seats were made by Mr. Henry Sellick; the windows and doors are from the shop of Messrs. Brown and Rutherford; and the two elegant designs in stucco are the work of Mr. Moulds. The doors and windows are in the gothic style – the chancel window in particular being a rich design and of excellent workmanship. The main window is 11 by 4 feet, and is composed of two gothic windows, surmounted by a circular window composed of eight concentric circles diverging from a common centre. It is intended to put stained glass into this window – an improvement which will add much to the appearance of the church.

Hereafter Sunday School will be held every Sunday afternoon at half-past 2 o’clock, and Divine service will be held by Rev. Canon Grisdale, Incumbent, at half-past 3 o’clock.

It is expected that a balance of about $250 will remain due on the inside fittings, and to aid in reducing this debt a collection will be taken up at the close of the service tomorrow afternoon.

From his earliest time in Canada, John started to make many trips back to England. Often he was sent to London to try to raise money for the church in Rupert’s Land, including money to help rebuild Holy Trinity Church. But he always took these opportunities to visit his parents and sibling in Bolton. In 1883 he even took his two children, Robert Chaplin and Alice, back to England to visit his family, including his parents who both lived until 1897. Later, in 1888, he was also back in Bolton and conducted the wedding of his younger brother Levi.

As already noted, in 1879 John was one of the 26 original founders of the Manitoba Historical Society. Here is an account of the Society’s first meeting when Canon Grisdale was certainly present:

On the appointed night, the old City Hall on Main Street was “completely filled” by a distinguished audience which was said to include “much of the worth and intelligence of Winnipeg.” The citizens parked their carriages and tied their horses on either side of the wide, rutted street and jumped onto the board sidewalks, boot heels ringing in the frosty air ignoring the shouts from several nearby taverns, they entered the lamplight at the door and mingled with the other leaders of Manitoba society. It was an exciting evening, precisely because it was all so new. Manitoba itself seemed a new world. Of the old-timers, McTavish of the Hudson’s Bay Company was gone, James McKay of Deer Lodge was on his death bed, and Louis Riel, now in exile somewhere near the Missouri River, was little more than a name. With few exceptions, these citizens had arrived in the province within the decade. To them an old-timer was John Christian Schultz, who had come to Red River in 1859, or Jim Ashdown, who had walked from St. Cloud to Red River in 1868. The number of native-born Red River citizens in their midst, like the métis Premier John Norquay, was tiny. This audience crackled with excitement because John Macoun would provide the first real assessment of the worth of their empire.

As the gentlemen settled in their oak armchairs, Chief Justice Wood introduced their guest in his inimitable prose. The burden of his message lay in a peroration that brought his listeners to life: “we are now waking up to the conviction,” he said, “that our North-West is destined to be one of the most important parts of the globe … and with the older eastern Provinces … will soon be the right arm of the British Empire.”John Macoun took up this theme where the Chief Justice had left off. He responded to the hearty applause with a few jokes, told stories about his trek across the vast plains to the west and, as everyone hoped, he provided enthusiastic reports about the potential of the prairie soil and the salubrity of prairie climate. Here was the confirmation of the best features of the Hind and Palliser reports that Winnipeggers had awaited. Macoun was assuring them that the West would soon contain an agricultural empire. His concluding comment, a statement attributed to Lord Beaconsfield, described this imperial frontier as a land of “illimitable opportunities.” His words provoked cheers from the audience.

MHS‘Among other trifling pursuits this young society set itself to build up three libraries. It organized, purchased, managed, housed and made available for the people the only public library and reading room the city had until the Carnegie library was opened. A second, the special joy of the Society’s heart, was a general reference library which included a fairly complete collection of books, historical and other, relating to Western Canada. Part of this collection went to the Carnegie reference library, and part was buried in the catacombs of the Parliament building. The third of the Society’s libraries had as its nucleus the books bequeathed by Mr. Isbister. This carefully preserved, used, and added to, was the beginning of the library of the Manitoba University.’

John’s church career and ministry in the growing city of Winnipeg continued. In 1884 he was promoted to the important position of dean of Rupert’s Land, and finally he was made Bishop of the huge prairie province of Qu’Appelle in 1896. But before this, in 1883 when John took his children back to England and when he was still Canon of St. John’s Cathedral, he must have talked with his brothers about them emigrating to Canada, because when he returned in April 1883 he was accompanied by his younger brother Joseph. Brother George arrived the next year in Winnipeg having travelled via Quebec. George had been a packer in a Bolton bleach works but became a bookkeeper in Canada, while Joseph had been a railway clerk back home but became a bank manager in Canada. I’ll tell something about them at a later date.

John Grisdasle

John Grisdasle

Dean Grisdale, as he now was, continued to be a trusted emissary and fund raiser for the diocese. Not long after Grisdale’s appointment as Dean, Bishop Machray we read:

Spoke of the place the Cathedral should hold in a Diocese, employing much the same terms and ideas he had used in setting forth his Cathedral system in 1874, when Mr. Grisdale, the Dean, had been installed as Canon He announced that while funds were not yet at his command for building a suitable Cathedral edifice, nor for the holding of daily Services, still his plans had to a large extent been realised, as the proceeds of the sale of Cathedral land, together with the endowments already formed for the Professorships in the College, now gave the means of having an effective staff–a Dean and four residentiary Canons–as well as of providing residences for them. The Dean and the four Canons would hold the Chairs of Pastoral Theology, Systematic Theology, Exegetical Theology, Ecclesiastical History, and Music respectively; he hoped to make an appointment to the last in a short time. The endowment of the Cathedral Chapter having now been secured, the next great effort at the centre of the Diocese was to be for the College, which needed a new building. He stated that Dean Grisdale was to proceed to England to try to raise an Endowment Fund for teachers in Arts, which also was necessary.

To assist Dean Grisdale, who left Winnipeg for London in the summer, the Bishop issued a circular, drawing attention at some length to the growth of Manitoba and the North-West, and the consequent needs of the Church. Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, was becoming a large place, wrote the Bishop, and was of great importance as a railway centre. East of it the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had built (1882) 450 miles of line to Port Arthur on Lake Superior, where connection was made with steamships on the Great Lakes for eastern points; and west of it the Company had constructed 450 miles of line across the prairies, and were still carrying the line westward at the rate of three miles a day. The line had gone beyond the boundary of Manitoba into Assiniboia, into which settlement was flowing to such an extent that it would be necessary to think very soon of providing a Bishop for that Territory. As regards Manitoba itself fifty-two new municipalities had been formed, and in thirty-eight of them, embracing over 700 townships, each comprising 36 square miles, there was no resident clergyman of the Church, while in several other municipalities, each with from twelve to forty townships, there was only one clergyman.

Returning to John’s irresistible rise:

Upon the death of Bishop Burn (in 1896), Dean Grisdale, of Winnipeg, was chosen successor, being the first Bishop of Qu’Appelle to be elevated to such dignity by the authorities of the English Church in Canada. He was fortunate in having as co-workers a corps of faithful and industrious priests, among whom may be named Archdeacon Dobie, Archdeacon T. W. Johnson, Canon Beale and the Rev. M. McAdam Harding. Thanks to the strenuous labours of these and other clergymen under Bishop Grisdale’s leadership, his episcopate was prosperous in the extreme. By 1906 the diocese contained sixty-seven churches and more than thirty-three hundred members of the Anglican communion, served by forty-eight ordained clergymen and twenty-four lay readers. By 1908 there were eighty-two churches, thirty-nine rectories and vicarages and eight parish halls.

Today the small town of Qu’Appelle in southern Saskatchewan isn’t of any great importance (except to those living there), but in the nineteenth century there were great hopes for the settlement. It was for a time the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the major distribution centre for what was then the District of Assiniboia in the North-West Territories. Qu’Appelle had at one stage been credibly anticipated to be the major metropole of the North-West Territories by both the federal government and the Church of England. In anticipation of Qu’Appelle’s future urban importance the Church had designated it the cathedral city for the new Diocese of Qu’Appelle, which geographically corresponded to the District of Assiniboia.

Political events, however, passed Qu’Appelle entirely by when Lieutenant- Governor Edgar Dewdney selected the locale of his own landholdings at Pile-O-Bomes (then re-named “Regina”) as his Territorial capital: Qu’Appelle’s significance… then largely lapsed.

Bishop's Court, Indian Head, Qu'Appelle Diocese

Bishop’s Court, Indian Head, Qu’Appelle Diocese

When John Grisdale became Bishop the pro-Cathedral church was St. Peter’s in Qu’Appelle which had been built in 1885 one year after the appointment of the first Bishop Adelbert Anson. The diocese briefly operated a training facility for Anglican clergy in the town and the St John’s College Farm, a model farm immediately to the west of town. Bishop Burn, Anson’s successor, ‘closed both of these facilities in 1895’. Burns also moved the Bishop’s Court or Palace to Indian Head. When Grisdale arrived the he too would live in the imposing Bishop’s Palace at Indian Head, although he would later move to the provincial capital of Regina where he established St. Chad’s College in 1907 for the training of students in Divinity. It also was recognized by the Provincial University and carried affiliation status. ‘In 1964, Emmanuel College and St. Chad’s College were amalgamated under the name of the “College of Emmanuel and St. Chad,” thus establishing on the Saskatoon Campus one college for the training of ministers for the Anglican Church of Canada.’

This is not the place to retell the story of the diocese of Qu’Appelle but some flavour is given by Trevor Powell in Building ‘a Holy Catholic Church’ on the Prairies:

REGINA  Cross, candles and flowers on the altar, intonation of the service, surpliced choirs, liturgical colours – very much part of Anglican services nowadays, but more than 125 years ago such outward expressions of traditional Catholic worship created a deep rift among Anglicans in England and overseas. Division between those of the Catholic and Evangelical traditions manifested itself not only in worship, but also in other aspects of church life – theological education, forms of ministry, missionary work – to name a few.

The Diocese of Qu’Appelle was no exception. Of the Catholic tradition, Bishops Anson (1884-1892), Burn (1893-1896) and their clergy, emphasized sacramental worship and ceremonial. These innovations to varying degrees were to be found in mainline parishes such as Moosomin, Grenfell, Qu’Appelle, Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Maple Creek, and with the advance of the railway to Saltcoats, Churchbridge, Estevan and Oxbow. Not everyone was pleased with such changes. Opposition by the congregation of St. Paul’s, Regina, to candles on the altar led Anson to ask the people of St. Peter’s, Qu’Appelle to become the pro-cathedral.

During Grisdale’s episcopate (1896-1911), a different course was pursued. To meet the spiritual needs of a growing and scattered population after the turn of the century, he invited clergy, theological students and lay workers of the Evangelical tradition to minister to settlers. Students from Wycliffe College, Toronto, served the missions of Condie, Foxleigh and Winnetka north of Regina. The Colonial and Continental Church Society took charge of a vast area on either side of the CPR main line from Caron to Herbert. Missioners reported to the Society that they had laid the foundation for a strong Church based along Evangelical lines at Morse, Herbert, Elbow, Mortlach, and Caron.

While pleased with the inroads made into what it had hitherto considered a Catholic preserve, the Society was not given further territory by Bishop Harding (1911-1934). Instead he brought in clergy of a strong Catholic tradition and through St. Chad’s Theological College ensured that candidates for ordination received a similar grounding. New mission fields were given to the Railway Mission brotherhood which used the expanding railway network as the chief means of bringing the sacraments to the newcomers. Like Anson and Burn, Harding unswervingly upheld the tenets of the Catholic faith and successfully led the diocese through war and peace followed by the Great Depression and the ravages of drought. He and his successors thus ensured that the Diocese of Qu’Appelle maintained its strong Catholic identity which set it apart from other prairie dioceses.

The ‘evangelical’ John Grisdale retired from his Bishop’s duties in 1911 ‘due to ill health’. He lived out his retirement with his wife in Winnipeg.

What sort of a man was Bishop John Grisdale? We can infer things from his career of course. There are many records of his work in Canada and even the story of his conversion of an Ojibway Indian (see here), and I even have a few of his letters sent to the CMS in London. But what was he like as a man? Perhaps one indication is the story he chose to tell when he himself was nearing his death in Winnipeg. This story was published in Winnipeg in 1937 by Kathleen Blanchard and was called, by her, The Gossamer Thread. It seems that when Bishop Grisdale was nearing his death he asked Wilfred Thomas, the Bishop of Brandon, to come and visit him. He then told him a story. Bishop Brandon wrote in the Foreword to The Gossamer Thread:

… It was while the good Bishop was living in retirement, and very shortly before his death, that he related to me the reminiscence which now finds the light of day in the pages of this little book Inasmuch as I was charged by the Bishop to keep the story alive and to make it known, I now owe to the writer a debt of much gratitude for fulfilling his wish in this commendable form. I earnestly hope that it may help to bring back to recollection some memories of one who loved to spend himself for others, and who in turn was loved by all.

Wilfred Brandon. Bishop’s Lodge, February 18, 1937

Kathleen Blanchard begins:

It was a festive night at our Parish hall in Winnipeg. We had gathered from far and near to hear an address by the newly consecrated Bishop of Brandon. We knew what a good speaker the Bishop was, and the story he told us was so remarkable that it is worth recording.

“When I was Archdeacon,” began the Bishop, “I was living very near to Bishop Grisdale. On morning early, the telephone was insistently ringing. I hastened from my bed to answer it. It was Bishop Grisdale’s nurse, who said, ‘Will you come over as soon as you can, the Bishop has something to tell you?’ Replying that I would come at once, I dressed hastily and was soon there.

“The Bishop was obviously pleased I had come, and said at once, ‘My dear Archdeacon, I sent for you early as I feel I have not much longer to live and I have been dreaming and thinking the night of a strange story of coincidence which I experienced years ago, and which I had forgotten – until my dreams brought them all back to my memory.’

“‘I want you to take what I have to say in writing, and when I am gone to pass it on to the world.’”

What follows is as near as we will ever get to John Grisdale’s verbatim dying story, a story he wanted passed on to the world;

Years ago, when I was Dean of Rupert’s Land, I made it a practice to go to the General Hospital every Friday morning and to go the rounds of the wards there. On one of my visits I was told by one of the nurses that a young Englishman who was very ill wished to see me as soon as I arrived.

I went at once to his ward and I saw that the poor fellow was indeed very ill and that his sickness was unto death. He roused himself however and asked, ‘Sir, will you do something for me?’ I at once replied, ‘My dear boy, I will do anything you ask me to do, that I can do for you.’ The young man then said in a low voice, ‘I feel I shall never see my home again, and I want you to take down the address of my mother in the Old Country, and when I am dead write to her and say you saw me.’ Having certain small personal articles, he asked that I would send her these.

I assured him that I would do so, and immediately noted the name and address of the boy’s mother and the messages. I then prayed with him, and after a little, left him and went on my way. I asked the nurse to let me know how he was and to keep in touch with me at my home.

I did not go straight home that morning and was a later than usual getting back, when I did so I found a message from the hospital waiting for me. The young man I had seen that morning had passed on soon after I left.

I felt very touched by the sad incident of the day and determined that I would do all I could. As I was Dean I had the privilege of choosing any plot of ground for a burial. I chose a spot not far from the east window – under a tree – and arranged for the body to be brought down to St. John’s. I buried him there. The day was beautiful, and after I had taken the burial I gathered some leaves from the tree over the grave and enclosed them in a letter to his mother, telling her all about the incident, as I had promised.

In due time I had a letter from his mother thanking me for all I had done, and enclosing to me the sum of twenty pounds with which to put up a small stone in the form of a cross, and asking me to put the following upon it:

‘Name – When born – When Died – and the following verse, “He brought me forth also into a place of liberty.”’ Psalm 18, verse 19.

Now I was much struck as to the reason his mother had chosen this particular line – as it was very unusual, and I pondered over it quite often.

However, it was all done as requested and the stone was put up. I often looked at it when I was passing through the churchyard – and wondered.

The years passed on. Sometime after I became Bishop, and had occasion to go over to England. During the course of my stay there I was invited to preach at Lichfield Cathedral one Sunday evening. The service commence, and the lovely voices of the choir were singing ‘He brought me forth also into a place of liberty.’ The whole scene of years ago flashed across my mind as the beautiful music rolled around the ancient arches I was transported to the little grave in Winnipeg.

As I looked round the noble building and at the vast congregation, I saw an old white-haired lady sitting in the front row. She was singing the Psalms of the day.

The thought flashed through my mind. ‘Could that possibly be the mother of the young man I had met years ago?’ I was determined after the service to ask someone who she was.

However my duties as a preacher took these thoughts out of my head and I thought no more about it just then. While I was disrobing, however, there was a knock at the Vestry door and the verger announced that a lady would like to speak to me. I knew at once who my visitor was a. It was the old lady I had seen at the service!

She said, ‘I wish to thank you personally, sir, for what you did for my son. You did the kindest deed one man could do for another. You fulfilled his last wises, and buried him with love and kindness.’ We had a little chat, and parted, and soon afterwards I returned to Canada and my work.

While going the rounds of my vast Diocese, I was preaching one Sunday morning in a small country town. The Incumbent was out in the afternoon to take service at a big ranch some miles away. He very much wanted me to go with him, and he said the cowboys would appreciate seeing me, even if I gave them only a little talk.

I was very tired, but consented to go. I enjoyed the drive and despite the bumpy roads and other discomforts. As we journeyed along I turned over in my mind what I would say to them on arrival.

At last we were there, the men were all assembled and the service had begun. Once again the singing commenced. Being the third day of the month, they came to the verse ‘He brought me forth also into a place of liberty!’ which as they sung, seemed to take volume and roll around me until the air was full of music.

I was spellbound. There and then I decided that I would say nothing of what I had prepared, but I commenced telling them of the singular coincidence of that particular verse of the Psalms and of all it reminded me of.

After the service was over, I was sitting on the veranda of the ranch, pondering over the happenings of the day, when the owner came up to speak to me, and said ‘That strange coincidence that you were telling us of, was even stranger than you thought, sir, for it was from this house he was taken to hospital, and it was to this house he first came to from England!’ And this was the singular end of my strange experience – it had following me to its conclusion.

Kathleen Blanchard added at the end: ‘Stranger indeed than fiction – like a gossamer thread.’

John Grisdale, the son of a Bolton cotton weaver, who had started his life as a cotton bleacher, died on 27th January 1922 in Winnipeg, a retired Bishop aged 76.

And memory gently takes our hand

And leads us by a silken thread

To recollections’ pool

K Blanchard

 

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

 

 

 

 

“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?

Early Australian towns were rum old places and none more so than those that grew up as a result of the Victoria gold rush in the mid nineteenth century. One of these was the town of Mansfield, lying 200 km north-east of Melbourne. It was just south of here, at Devil’s River, that William Grisdale and his family had settled shortly after their arrival in Australia in 1853. A few years later, local newspaper reports give us a flavour of William’s life in Australia.

The Delatite River

Devil’s River lies “below the Paps, close to the junction of the Delatite River and Brankeet Creek”. The legend has it that earlier explorers camped overnight “and were so frightened by the sounds of a corroboree being conducted nearby that they called the place Devil’s River”.

At the beginning of January 1871, a horse belonging to missing gold digger James McNally had been found “in one of Mr Chenery’s paddocks” – in Martin’s Gap, near Mansfield on the road to Jamieson. When the horse was brought into Mansfield, “a large party was formed, who started to search for the missing man”, who had already been missed by his mates in December. On the 3rd January, McNally’s body was discovered “at a place called Martin’s Gap some three miles from the Devil’s River Inn” where William Grisdale was landlord. Grisdale “who first came upon the body” was in the company of Mansfield farmer James Owen. The Benalla Ensign reported: “There is some reason to believe that the missing man James McNally may have met with some foul play.” It added that “suspicion attaches to an individual upon whom the police have their eye” – although we never hear explicitly who this might have been.

The body, which was lying on the ground, with the head entirely off, and… was some little distance from the trunk. It is difficult to say whether the head was cut off, or whether its separation was the result of decomposition and the attacks of animals. The body was extended on the back, and near it was an open knife, which is stained with blood. From the appearances it is imagined that a terrible murder has been committed.

An inquest was called which was to be held in William Grisdale’s nearby Devil’s River Inn, to where McNally’s body had first been taken. The first witness to give evidence was James Owen:

I am a farmer living at Mansfield. I knew the deceased James McNally, and recognise the body from the clothes as being that of James McNally. It is about five weeks since I saw him alive. I was searching for him yesterday, as he had been missing about a month. I was searching with about 20 more in a paddock belonging to Mr. Chenery called Wilson’s paddock. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon I found the body of deceased in a small gully, lying amongst some long grass. The deceased was lying on his back, his legs and arms spread out. His head was lying about a foot from the body. There was a knife close by his right hand. (The knife was produced, and was a common pocket knife.) The knife was about an inch and a half from the right hand of deceased. There was a small bone of the neck lying between the head and the body. The body was a perfect skeleton.

William Grisdale was present when I found the body. John Nixon came up when I called out, John Prendergast, and John O’Shea, the shoemaker, of Mansfield, and some others whose names I don’t know. The hat of deceased was found up the gully about 25 or 30 yards (away). We searched Wilson’s paddock because it adjoined the one in which the deceased’s horse was first found. I have known the deceased for seven or eight years intimately. I never observed anything eccentric in his conduct. The deceased was generally a sober man. I have seen him drunk, but after drinking I never observed anything odd about him that would induce me to think he would commit suicide. I should say that the deceased was a most unlikely man to commit suicide. There is a good station fence between the paddock where the deceased’s horse was found and that in which the body was discovered. The horse was not likely to leap the fence. I knew McNally as a digger at Mount Bulla. He had three mates. The last time I saw deceased he said that he and his mate Thomas Egerton could not hit it (off). McNally said that he and Egerton had had several quarrels. McNally complained that Egerton would not work properly. The body did not appear to have been dragged, that is the clothes did not show it. McNally never told me that Egerton had a bad feeling towards him. I think the bad feeling had been blown away. Where I found the body, there was a mark like that of a bullock having laid down, but the ground was not otherwise disturbed. The head was lying in a higher position than the body. Besides Thomas Egerton, McNally’s mates were James Walker and James Williams.

The coroner, Dr, Rowe, and the jury of 14, then started to hear the statements of various other people, including McNally’s brother William and James’s digger partner at Mount Bulla, Thomas Egerton. They heard about James’ character, whether he was a drinker or not and what was his frame of mind when he had last been seen leaving the Mount Bulla diggings on December 9 – on his way to stake a new claim for himself and his three partners. There were also a lot of questions regarding what James had been doing in Martin’s Gap, which was not on the path from Mansfield to Mount Bulla. The dead man’s brother William cast a lot of aspersions against James’ partner and “mate” James Egerton:

My brother continually complained to me about Thomas Egerton, one of his mates. He complained that Egerton did not do his share of work, and that he would watch the party when they wore stripping the paddock where they were working. I advised my brother to leave the claim, but he said he would not give Egerton the satisfaction of leaving.

My brother never mentioned anything about threats or violence between (himself) and Egerton. Egerton said to me after my brother was missing that he had been murdered, that he knew the man who did it, and would have him before he took his clothes off. This was said about eight days ago, when I and Egerton were looking for my brother. Egerton’s words were – ‘It is no use looking, the man has been murdered. I know the man, and will have him before I take off my clothes.’

Under cross examination from Egerton himself, William McNally conceded: “I never heard my brother accuse you of an attempt to swindle him out of a sixpence. I never heard him say who had charge of the gold.”

Egerton went on to tell what he knew of McNally’s last intentions when he left the Mount Bulla diggings on December 9th, and how a few days later he had “searched for him for five days, never taking off my clothes”. He refuted what William McNally had testified: “I did not tell William McNally what he says I did. One word in his last statement is incorrect. I did not say I ‘knew’ the man who killed his brother, but ‘I believed’ I know the man…. I also said, ‘but it is no use until the body is found.’”

The reason I had a suspicion of murder was I knew (the) deceased went to see his brother at Mansfield, and I did not know what took him to Jamieson. That made me suspect foul play.

The original Mansfield Court House was replaced by this one in 1879

The inquest was adjoined and reconvened three more times more at Mansfield Court House. Egerton was examined again at great length. He talked a lot about distances and walking times – still unsure why McNally had been in Martin’s Gap. Other witnesses described how they had seen McNally near Martin’s Gap shortly before his presumed murder and how he had not gone to Mansfield as he said he would but gone instead to Jamieson and was seen returning towards Mansfield before he disappeared. The witnesses’ statements are given in some detail in the various newspaper reports and they are well worth reading in full.  I will quote from the summing up in a minute, but first, William Grisdale also gave own his statement, one of only two times we hear him speak, more or less, in his own words.  “William Grisdale deposed”:

I live at the Devil’s River Inn, and I am a publican and farmer. I know the deceased. He always called at my house when he passed. He has never stopped there at night. (I) last saw him alive on 4th of December. My wife saw him at my house on the 9th December. (I) was in Mansfield on that day – all day. (I) got home about 7 o’clock p.m. About 8 o’clock Willie Little called and inquired about a bullock that he had lost. Told him my mate David Watson and I had been working on the road at the Gap the night before and we had not seen the bullock. Little went on towards Sawyer’s drays which were camped about 150 yards from my house. No one was in my house but David Watson and my own family. After supper, David Watson went to bed, and I also went to bed. No one came to the hotel during the night. On the evening of 9th of December, I met Thomas Sawyer on the bridge at the Devil’s River. He said he was going to Wangaratta to see his wife, who was ill. (I) was searching for the deceased with James Owens when the body was found. The deceased was lying on his back with his arms and legs spread out. His head was separate from his body. An open knife was near the deceased. It was in Wilson’s paddock where the body was found. The body was found nearly in a line from the foot of the range through the opening by Stewart’s house to the late Mr Henry Tomkins’s. The knife, a white-handle one, was found about an inch and a half from the right hand, the handle towards the hand. The grass was undisturbed except a space of a yard and a half. The appearance of the ground was such as might be caused by a scuffle. The deceased’s trousers were unbuttoned and half way down the thigh.

Answering a question from Mr. Egerton, William finished:

I do not know of any man being on the ‘spree’ in my house about 9th of December last.

And that’s the last we hear of William Grisdale in this matter. The judge then heard extensive evidence from the police and Dr. Reynolds who conducted the post-mortem. The doctor gave all the graphic medical details and confirmed that McNally had received a heavy blow to the head before he was decapitated.  “I would have no hesitation in stating that he died first by a blow, which rendered him insensible, and that afterwards his throat was cut.”  In his summing-up Dr. Rowe memorably remarked: “The ‘knife found by the hand pointed to suicide, but a man committing suicide by cutting his throat did not in the first instance give himself a blow on the head.”

The jury, “after consulting for two hours”, returned the following verdict:

That the said James McNally was found dead in Wilson’s paddock, near Delatite, in the Shire of Mansfield, in the colony aforesaid, on the 3rd day of January, 1871; and that he was murdered by some person or persons unknown, but there is no evidence before this inquest to show when he was so murdered.

Not William Grisdale but his brother Wilfred – still in Cumberland

Enough excitement one might think for one year. But no! During the previous nine months, William had also testified at two other inquests at his Inn; one regarding a mysterious poisoning and another related to a huge and deadly gunpowder explosion at Devil’s River. But that’s for another time.

Sources

 Suspected Murder at the Devil’s River: The Argus, January 10,1871; The Empire Jan 17, 1871; The Mansfield Independent, January 7, 1871; The Benalla Ensign, January 14, 1871.

The Argus, January 9, 1871.

The Supposed Murder at Devil’s River: The Argus, January 23, 1871.

Murder of McNally: The Benalla Ensign, January 28, 1871.

It was probably with a mixture of hope and trepidation that William Grisdale boarded the 1300 ton sailing ship Genghis Khan in Liverpool docks on 23rd of March 1853. Accompanied by his wife Sarah and their recently born baby Elizabeth, they were bound for Australia and a new life – a life that would take them via Melbourne to the newly discovered gold fields of Victoria. But first they had to survive the journey, which, as we will see, they nearly didn’t.

The Genghis Kahn

William was the second child of William Grisdale, originally of Matterdale, and his wife Elizabeth Charter. William senior had become a “Dancing Master” in Penrith and William junior was born and christened there in 1817 – he himself became a “drainer”. William senior was the brother of the Wilfred Grisdale who had emigrated to Canada in 1816/7 and about whom I wrote in the last article. The older brother of William the Australian emigrant was another Wilfred Grisdale, he is my own 2nd great grandfather.

The family were assisted emigrants; the Colony of Victoria paid their fares, perhaps sponsored by early Melbourne settlers who were short of labour.

What had prompted William and his wife to make this hazardous journey we don’t know. All around England posters were appearing in villages and towns offering the prospect of a new life down-under. Newspapers had also recently started to print stories of gold diggers who had got rich quick, such as this one which appeared in the Liverpool Echo:

Men that were never worth five pounds in their lives are now possessed of fortunes, and the yoke is burdensome, and they scatter their money like chaff. The whole country for hundreds of miles is one immense goldfield.

Whatever the Grisdales’ reasons there was quite a procedure to be gone through. The Victoria Colonial Secretary’s Office worked in conjunction with the British Emigration Agent in London, “assisted by locally appointed Immigration Agents”.

These agents had to ascertain that the applicants were “of sober habit, industrious and of good moral character, and have certificates to this effect, signed by two respectable persons (but not by publicans or dealers in wines and spirits)”.

They had to give the agents their dates and places of birth, literacy, their trade if they had one, their present employment and any debts they may have.  Also they needed to produce a doctor’s report confirming that “they were free from infectious or contagious disease, had either had or were vaccinated against smallpox”.  Adult males were also required to be physically capable of the labour of their trade.

 Once the emigration Commission received and accepted the application, with its various forms and affidavits, the next thing was to wait for an embarkation order.  Applicants were advised not to give up their employment until they received this order, as it may be some time before passage space became available.  When this order was received, it was accompanied by a list of things they were required to supply for the journey, clothes for both hot and cold climates, towels sheets, etc.

Obviously William had been able to supply all this because on 15th March 1853 William and his small family boarded the Genghis Kahn with all the other passengers.

It was to be over a week before the ship sailed. On 22nd March the livestock for the voyage was brought on board: “ducks, fowls and sheep”, and the next day, the 23rd, the ship cast off and was towed into the Mersey by a steam powered tug.

All these details of the voyage, and the ones that will follow, are the result of one passenger named Joseph Tarry who kept a very detailed diary; his observations were subsequently published: A voyage to Australia in 1853 : the diary of Joseph Tarry. I don’t yet have an original copy of this book and thus I have relied heavily on, and am indebted to, a précis written by a family historian researching another Genghis Khan passenger called William Lee. I think it worth quoting this précis at some length:

The moderate easterly soon died down, leaving the vessel briefly becalmed in the Irish Sea, with a memorable view of the Welsh mountains.

 The first few days at sea were horrific, storms and gales tossed the ship about, water poured down the main hatchway into the steerage, and crockery and tin ware, clothing and food, were scattered in confusion all over the passengers’ deck.  This would have been a terrifying experience for William and Elizabeth, as they would never have been to sea before in their lives.  The damp conditions added to the emigrants’ discomfort, for most were miserably sea sick.  “If we did not sleep in boxes”, wrote emigrant Joseph Tarry, “we should be tossed out of bed…”

 As the weather and their health improved, passengers adjusted to shipboard life.  The men made out a roster so that two were awake at all time during the night to assist any sick passengers and prevent irregularities. Soon passengers and crew were reporting thefts to the Master, who announced a thorough search of all luggage on arrival at Melbourne, the thefts stopped immediately.

 The early April days were pleasantly warm as they approached the equator.  Most passengers had written letters, in case they met a homeward bound vessel, but none were sighted.  Entering the South Atlantic so as to follow the Great Circle Route, the ship once again ran into bad weather.  About 30 feet of her top mizzen mast being lost in a storm on April 7th. Soon icy gales and mountainous seas caused the loss of 60 feet of her main mast and damaged her foretop mast.  Even experienced seamen were afraid to go aloft and eventually the Master himself began to climb the rigging, calling on his crew for “the best men among you” to follow him.  Much later, in better conditions, the Master told the passengers that in twenty years at sea he had never experienced such a storm.  The deck was strewn with smashed and splintered timber, torn canvas and broken ropes.

 Passengers were confined below as heavy seas washed over the upper decks, frequently splashing down the main hatch in spite of its canvas cover.  They were cold, often hungry and frequently ill.  The cooks could not keep water in their boilers because of the tossing of the ship.

 The cooks’ fires were constantly being doused with sea water.  When hot food could be prepared, the English emigrants complained that puddings cooked in sea water were unpalatable.  The Scots and Irish were sometimes able to bake oatcakes from their ration of oatmeal, on a griddle provided for their use.  

 The t’weendecks was overcrowded.  The passengers became tired of each other, and even such minor and familiar nuisances as lice contributed to make conditions intolerable

 There was a great deal of illness at sea. Many of the small Scottish children were suffering from malnutrition before the voyage began, and had little resistance to the measles, scarletina, diarrhoea and typhus which swept through the steerage compartments, taking 30 lives

 On May 23rd , a large piece of floating ice struck the ship.  Visibility was poor, and when Prince Edward Island was passed it was completely hidden in thick fog.  Antarctic gales increased, breaking a yard arm.  Waves struck the ship with the thunder of cannon balls.  An officer described the “Genghis Khan” as being “almost a wreck”.  The Chief Mate, held in esteem by all the passengers for his seamanship and courage, was suddenly demoted.  After too much alcohol he had become insane, threatening to sink the ship.

 The Great Circle Route was terrifying not only for the rough weather, darkness, and prospect of meeting icebergs and uncharted islands, but also for its intense loneliness.  No other ships were seen on this route, no friendly greetings, no visits of crews from passing ships.

 As the “Genghis Khan” neared Port Phillip, Joseph Tarry wrote of the growing excitement amongst the emigrants “and no wonder after being shut up in this floating prison for a quarter of a year without      having seen a speck of God’s fair earth or a green leaf and for many weeks not even a ship.”

 On the evening of June 24th the cry of “Land Ho!” brought everyone on deck.  Cape Otway was clearly visible to the north, bathed in moonlight.  Next day the  “Genghis Khan” with the aid of a pilot entered the Heads, anchoring at the Quarantine Station on Ticonderoga Bay, where two families suffering from scarletina were taken on board the hospital ship “Lysander”.

Ticonderoga Quarantine Station used when the Grisdales passed through

The Portsea Quarantine Station (“Ticonderoga”) on the Mornington Peninsular had been established the previous year as a response to the arrival of the “fever ship”, the Ticonderoga. The Health Officer based there was Superintendent of the Sanitary Station. He was charged with boarding every inward bound ship to ascertain the state of health of its passengers and crew and where necessary to place the ship in quarantine.

 Fresh beef was brought aboard, and appetites revived amazingly.  Their strength renewed six seamen deserted during the first night, bound for the goldfields.  A day of absolute calm at the Heads had been followed by a storm so rough that it was impossible to sail, and the “Genghis Khan” finally reached Melbourne a week later, on a beautiful clear winter day.  In spite of the storms and epidemics 256 of the passengers could count themselves fortunate that they had lived to arrive in the colony.

Melbourne in 1854

Passengers were then transferred to land in small boats and then either paid for transport up the River Yarra to the small town of Melbourne or they had to walk.

The Melbourne that confronted the Grisdales was a rough old place. In the same year they arrived William J. Wills wrote home to his father:

I do not like Melbourne in its present state. You are not safe out after sundown and in a short time you will not be safe during the day. There were some men taken out of the river drowned, suspected to have been murdered, and several attempts at robbery, while we were there.

It was in this Melbourne that immigrants such as the Grisdales completed the formalities of their passage in the Immigration Depot on Collin’s Street and here they usually found their first work.

William and his family had survived all the perils of the journey to Australia but their adventure was only just beginning.

William and Sarah Grisdale’s grave in Mansfield cemetery

Whether William first worked in Melbourne or moved straightaway to the booming gold digs in and around the Upper Goulburn River is unclear. But by 1857 at the very latest he and Sarah were living and having more children in the gold fields, first in Mansfield and then in Jamieson, both entrepôts servicing the exploding gold rush settlements. In total William and Sarah had seven more children in Australia and many of these were to work in some of the many “diggings” in the area, including Wood Point, Ten Mile and Gaffney’s Creek. They weren’t only miners, but farmers, lumbermen and labourers as well. Near Wood Point there is even a “Grisdale Creek” – not a coincidence I’m sure!

But that story is for another time.

William Grisdale died in Mansfield in 1886 and is buried in the cemetery there with his wife Sarah. They must have done well because such a grave stone would not have come cheap.