Posts Tagged ‘Sydney’

On 3 June 1835 a female convict named Sarah Jones married in Saint John’s Anglican Church in Parramatta, Sydney. Her husband was a free man called Edward Grisdale. What was their story? I will reconstruct it as best I am able given the paucity of the records. This little event throws light on the brutalities of the English penal system and some of the abuses perpetrated on convicts in early Australian colonial days. The couple’s ultimate fate remains a mystery and some of the story is conjecture.

Parramatta Female Factory

Parramatta Female Factory

Let’s start with the shockingly named ‘Parramatta Female Factory’. From the early days of Australia’s history as a penal colony, transported convicts had been separated by sex. Women were sent on separate convict ships. On arrival most women were assigned to settler ‘masters’ who needed domestic or other help and for whom the women would work throughout their sentence. Those who for whatever reason couldn’t be placed were sent to newly established ‘Female Factories’, These were part prison, part forced labour camps, part employment offices and, as we shall see, part marriage exchanges and brothels as well.

The Parramatta Female Factory had opened in 1821 and could house 300 women.  It was to this factory that Sarah Jones was sent after she arrived on the convict ship Numa in 1834. The journey wasn’t very long as the Factory was situated on the banks of the Parramatta River, just a few miles from the then small town of Sydney. The women were separated into three classes: ‘The First Class consisted of women who had recently arrived from England, women who had been returned from service with good character reports, and women who had undergone a probationary period in the Second Class. Women in the First class were eligible for assignment and to marry. In the Second Class were women who had been sentenced for minor offences and who could, after a period of probation, be transferred to the First class. The third, or Crime, Class consisted of women who had been transported a second time or who had been found guilty of misconduct during the voyage out or since their arrival. Convict women who became pregnant, and female immigrants convicted of vagrancy or other offences were also confined in the Factories.’

One history puts it thus:

While the Female Factories would appear to resemble conventional imprisonment, they did not abate the enforced whoredom of the convict women. Rather they moved the women from the sight of the free population – so that they could ignore the ill-treatment and degradation of the convicts – and enabled their systematic abuse to be conducted more efficiently. Even within the new Factory conditions were appalling and, as the number of women transported grew, very overcrowded.

As well as being brothels the Factories were also marriage markets. ‘Many women were married soon after arrival. The idea was that any man wanting to marry one of the women would apply. They were lined up at the Factory and the man would drop a scarf or handkerchief at the feet of the woman of his choice. If she picked it up, the marriage was virtually immediate.

Precinct in Parramatta Factory

Precinct in Parramatta Factory

In 1834 the factory’s matron was a certain Mrs Gordon. She held the position for many years. One historian of Australia’s female factories has this to say about Mrs Gordon:

The Factory at Parramatta functioned as a brothel and as a marriage mart. James Mudie told the 1837 Select committee that many more women were retained in the First Class than was necessary for the size of the establishment. He recounted that Mrs Gordon, the matron, had several times refused to allow him to take as servants women he had selected. It appears that Mrs Gordon unofficially employed the women herself and that she had made “thousands of pounds” from her enterprise. Mudie intimated that she had acquired influence with the authorities by the late 1820s and thus ensured that all reports made of her management of the Factory would be favourable. She was, he evinced, “notorious”.

In even plainer English, Mrs Gordon became a brothel Madame and enriched herself by renting out the female convicts in her ‘care’ for sex and probably also made money by taking a commission for supplying wives to settlers. Remember there were many more men than women in Australia at the time and it could be hard for a man to find a wife.

J. C. Byrne had witnessed the scene of these marriages at Parramatta first-hand in 1835. In his book Twelve Years’ Wanderings in the British Colonies, from 1835 to 1847, he writes:

AT ALL PERIODS during the progress of the colony, and up to the present time, (1835) single men could obtain wives, on application, from amongst the female convicts, at the chief depot in Parramatta. The form is a strange one, and well worth relating. A man desiring a wife, and being unable to suit himself elsewhere, proceeds to the female factory at Parramatta, and presents himself to the matron and master of that institution. The certificate of a clergyman or magistrate is produced; setting forth that the applicant is a proper person to have a wife given to him, from the many under charge of the matron. The applicant in then introduced into a room of the building, whilst the matron proceeds to the class department, that contains the best behaved of the female convicts. Notice is here given that a wife is required, and such as are willing to be married step forward, and are marshalled in batches into the presence of the would-be Benedict. On they pass, the man speaking to individuals as they attract his attention, inquiring their age, etc. till someone is met with who pleases his taste, and possesses the required perfection’s. The inquiries then become mutual; the lover wishes to know if the fair one has ever been married; the question is reiterated by the female, who also desires to learn how many head of cattle or sheep, or what land or houses, her lover is possessed of. Mutual explanations take place, and if satisfactory on both sides, the matron is acquainted with the fact, and a day named for the marriage. All the time, this lady is present, and has frequently to witness strange and ludicrous scenes; scores of females passing for review, between whose personal and other claims, the applicant balances his mind, sometimes leaving it to the matron to decide whom he shall take. When this knotty point is settled, the authorities are informed of the fact; the clergy of the place publishes the banns, and if no impediment intervenes, on the appointed day, the parties are married; the woman leaving the factory, and returning to a state of freedom in the colony, during good conduct. These marriages are of frequent occurrence, thousands having thus obtained wives.

convict ship in ausMaybe this was how Sarah Jones found her husband Edward Grisdale? Yet it seems that Sarah and Edward already at least knew each other because they had arrived on the same ship, the Numa. Edward ‘came free’ while Sarah was a convict sentenced to ‘14 years bond’. This is written in the Australian convict records. As I will later show, Edward was almost certainly a seaman on the Numa and maybe he and Sarah had fraternized or consorted during the voyage. (The goings-on on board the female convict ships are the stuff both of true history and legend). Or maybe they just recognized each other at the Parramatta Factory cattle market?

Why had Sarah been transported to Australia for fourteen years? What heinous crime had she committed? Luckily we know exactly why because there is a transcript of her trial at the Old Bailey in London. We know this is the right person because the Australian records tell us her trial was held on 5 September 1833 at Middlesex court i.e. at the Old Bailey. I think it is worth quoting the whole transcript:

SARAH JONES was indicted for stealing, on the 27th of June, 1 purse, value 6d.; 1 ring, value, 5s.; 2 sovereigns; and 10 shillings, the goods of George Gibbs , from his person.

GEORGE GIBBS. I am a tailor. On the 27th of June I was returning from Vauxhall-gardens – I was quite sober- I fell in with the prisoner in the Commercial-road, she was walking along and appeared to be in a state of intoxication – when I got up to her she laid hold on my arm – I asked her what was the matter – she said, she had been out so late with a party of friends, and was afraid to go home to her parents, and she asked me as a favour to go home with her – I went half way down a street, and asked her which house it was, she then said she did not live there but in White Lion-street – I told her I could not go there, as I lived in Norfolk-street – she hung upon my left arm – my purse was in my left hand breeches pocket, and my watch was in my fob – I bade her good night and went away – I then missed my purse, which contained a gold ring, two sovereigns, about 10s. in silver or more – I knew it was safe three minutes before I saw the prisoner, and I had not met any other person – I then ran down the street, and saw a policeman at the bottom – I told him the circumstance, and the prisoner was taken on the 6th of July – I had not been with the prisoner more than three minutes.

ABRAHAM SCOTT (police-sergeant). I received the information – I had seen the prisoner three times that night, and I knew her – I told one or two of our men, and she was taken and lodged in the watch-house – I went and saw her, and took the prosecutor, who identified her as the girl – I went to her lodging, and found the duplicate of the ring.

JOHN VAUGHAN. I am a pawnbroker and live in Whitechapel, this ring was pawned by the prisoner on the 5th of July.

GEORGE GIBBS. This ring is mine; it has three letters on it, by which I can swear to it.

Prisoner’s Defence. I met the prosecutor, he walked with me some time, and asked me to go up a court, which I did, he then said, he had no money, but he gave me the ring off his finger as a pledge till the following night; but as he did not come, I kept it for a few days, and pawned it.

GEORGE GIBBS. There is not a word of truth in it.

GUILTY. Aged 19. – Transported for Fourteen Years.

Inside the Old Bailey

Inside the Old Bailey

It seems that Sarah had accosted George Gibbs in Commercial Road in London’s notorious East End (or he had propositioned her) while she was somewhat the worse for wear and picked his pocket. Her defence that “he gave me the ring off his finger” still doesn’t ring quite true and it wasn’t accepted by the jury. But I must say Gibbs’ story is a bit lame as well. What she in fact was saying was that she had been propositioned by Gibbs and had either had sex with him or was going to, but as he hadn’t got enough to pay she took his ring as a pledge or surety for his payment the next day. Who knows the precise truth?

Before we go on, let’s pause a minute to reflect on the nature of crime and punishment in England at the time. For a first offense (we think) of theft Sarah had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation! Par for the course I’m afraid.

Most (convicts) were sentenced in England for minor crimes such as pick pocketing or theft. As punishment, not only were they exported from their country, many were forced to endure of a life of sexual exploitation. On the ships to Australia, the prettiest were rumoured to have been shared amongst the military officers. Upon arrival in Australia, the women were lined up like cattle to be selected as servants or wives. If they didn’t become either, a life of prostitution was their only real hope for survival.

A calm Motherbank

A calm Motherbank

As we have seen, the trial took place on 5 September 1833 and the Numa finally departed from its anchorage off the English south coast near Portsmouth on 29 January 1834. The Times reported that the ‘Numa, James Laing and Moffat, all with convicts for Australia, lay windbound at St. Helen’s and the Motherbank on 21 December 1833. Altogether 150 vessels were all waiting for moderate weather and a fair wind’. ‘It had blown during the previous week with great violence but without occasioning any loss to the ships whilst at anchor.’ The Numa with the convicts aboard had been sitting at anchor for weeks as storms raged. The conditions on board would have been miserable.

The ship first went to Cork in Ireland to pick up some Irish female convicts and then set sail for Australia with a stop at the Cape of Good Hope. The Numa was commanded by Captain John Baker. Also on board was Surgeon Superintendent Edward Ford Bromley who kept a medical journal of the voyage. He noted the names of those he treated, including that of Sarah Jones – for what I don’t know. Two children died on the trip but the Numa finally arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney on 13 June 1834, after a voyage of ‘135 days’.  On board were 134 female convicts, 24 children and ‘18 ton of gunpowder for the public service’.

Once the ‘convict muster’ was made on the 17th June, Sarah was sent to the Parramatta Female Factory and to the tender mercies of Mrs Gordon.

Turning our attention to her husband-to-be Edward Grisdale: Who was he? As already mentioned we know that he had also arrived on the Numa. Convicts had to apply for permission to marry and on15 September 1834, just three months after their arrival, Sarah and Edward were given permission to marry in Parramatta by the Rev. R. Forrest. The record shows that they had both come on the Numa, that Sarah was a convict serving a fourteen year bond and that Edward ‘came free’.

A Schooner similar to the Tamar

A Schooner similar to the Tamar

I think there is little doubt that Edward was a seaman on the Numa, and probably a Mate or at least a very experienced mariner. There are three grounds for this belief. First, there were no male passengers on the Numa. The passenger list says that 134 female convicts and 24 children arrived on board. The men would have been crew and the surgeon. So Edward was probably one of the crew. Second, not long after the Numa’s, arrival, we find a Captain Edward Grisdale (sometimes Commander sometimes Master) of the 117 ton schooner Tamar, owned by James Raven, a rising young merchant of Launceston, Tasmania. In March 1835, Captain Grisdale, accompanied by Mr Raven, arrived in Launceston from Mauritius. Later we find the Tamar, still under Captain Grisdale, plying the trade from Sydney to Tasmania. Here is just one of the many newspaper reports and advertisements. It appeared in the Sydney Gazette on 28 April 1835:

FOR CHARTER OR FREIGHT TO HOBART TOWN. The fine first-class Schooner Tamar. Captain Grisdale, Commander, 117 Tons, Register, sails well, and in the event of a suitable Charter not offering, will meet with quick despatch for the above Port -Apply on board, to JAMES RAVEN, Owner.

There is absolutely no mention of any Edward Grisdale, Captain or not, in Australia before 1834.

workington harbour

Workington Harbour

For the third reason we need to go back to England. When Sarah and Edward obtained permission to marry in September 1834, Sarah gave her age as 22. But there was no age for Edward. When they did eventually marry, in June 1835, Edward was reported to have been 35; making him born in about 1800. (Sarah was still 22!) There is only one eligible Edward Grisdale in the English record born around this time. On 16 May 1802 an Edward Grisdale was baptized in Saint Michael’s Church, Workington, Cumberland. His parents were Edward Grisdale and his wife Mary Robinson. Edward senior was a mariner; when he married Mary Robinson in Workington in 1792 he gave his occupation as ‘mariner’. In the 1811 directory of Workington he is listed as living at Town Head in the town and was a ‘Captain’. In fact we know that he was also a ship owner, his ship being the Mary – probably named after his wife. Father Edward had also been born in Workington but his ancestors were, as you would expect, from Matterdale/Watermillock. It was probably only natural that young Edward followed his father to sea. And if he was made a Captain on his arrival in Australia he most probably had at least a mate’s ticket while on the Numa.

So we can surmise that after he had gained permission to marry Sarah Jones in September 1834, Captain Edward went to sea on the trips already mentioned. Yet it is of interest to note that the last mention we find of Captain Edward Grisdale in the Australian newspapers was dated 18 May 1835 when the Tamar departed Sydney for Hobart. It arrived in Hobart on 5 June 1835. Yet Edward married Sarah in Saint John’s Anglican Church in Parramatta on the 3 June 1835!? How was this possible? I can’t believe there were two Edward Grisdales. Maybe Edward had skipped ship en route or been fired? When the Tamar arrived back in Sydney from Hobart on 14 June it was commanded by Captain Town. It’s all a bit of a mystery.

st johns

Saint John’s Church, Parramatta

What we do know is that after his marriage Edward simply disappears. This would be strange if he had lived. He was after all a sea captain and in the decades to come he would, we might think, pop up at least a few more times, but he doesn’t. So perhaps he died shortly after the marriage – possibly at sea but maybe not. There is only one further mention of an Edward Grisdale in the whole of the nineteenth century in Australia. This is the supposed death of ‘Edward Gresdale’ (this was a common misspelling) in 1885 in Sydney, aged 34. At first, before I knew his age had been given as 34, I thought that therefore Edward had lived a long life. But if he were 34 there simply is no Edward Grisdale born in England or elsewhere in or around 1861. For various reasons I think it might be that this death could just possibly have taken place years before 1885 and was only then entered. This is speculation at present but if so it might mean that if our Edward had died in, say, 1835 he would very probably have been 34. It’s a line worth pursuing.

Regarding Sarah, we catch one last definitive glance of her in 1837 in the convict muster of that year. She is listed under her maiden name of Sarah Jones and was living with her ‘master’ Alex Gray in Sydney. There is no doubt that this is her because the Numa is mentioned plus her arrival in 1834 and her sentence of fourteen years. Alexander Gray was for a long time the publican of the Light-house Tavern situated in the squalor of the Sydney docks. It was on the corner of Sussex Street and Bathurst Street. After she had married Edward, unless he had died or done a runner, Sarah would probably have been released into his care on a ‘Ticket of Leave’. That she wasn’t is telling.

Australian Female Convicts Rebel

Australian Female Convicts Rebel

What became of her? In years to come there are countless newspaper reports of a Sarah Jones living in this area being arrested for things such as being a drunkard, vagrancy, idleness and obscene language. Sentences of either one or three months were the norm. It is tempting to think that this was her, but perhaps not. Sarah Jones was a pretty common name at the time, including in Sydney. There were as far as I can see at the very least four Sarah Joneses living in Sydney around this time. Most of the reports of the unruly, drunk vagrant Sarah Jones are from the 1860s and even into the 1870s (when ‘our’ Sarah would have been sixty); nothing from the 1840s. In addition, there was a report on Wednesday 11 August 1869 saying that on the previous Saturday evening ‘Sarah Jones, an elderly woman… died suddenly in Wilmott- street’. This might be our Sarah; though I guess we’ll never know.

One could romantically imagine Edward and Sarah living out their days in peace and obscurity somewhere where newspapers never went, but I truly doubt it.

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?