Posts Tagged ‘Workington’

When I came across a story printed in the London Standard on 29 December 1845 concerning a collision of two steamers off the west coast of India I was intrigued. One of the ships, the Parsee, which was carrying a very large load of opium and treasure, was commanded by Captain Grisdale. So which Captain Grisdale was this? I will tell you later, but first the short story.

The sources for this story are the report in the London Standard plus various other reports in the Indian press. I would like to acknowledge the collation of these reports by marine salvager Pascal Kainic who I will quote:

A steamer like the Parsee

A steamer like the Parsee

‘The “Parsee” was a little steamer employed in the East India country trade, owned by Messrs. Jeejeebhoy Dadabhoy, Sons & Co. and commanded by captain Griesdale. She was totally lost by a collision  with the “Sir James Rivett Carnac”, captain P. Duverger, a vessel employed in the same service, but fortunately without loss of life.

The “Carnac” was on her way from Bombay to Tankaria Bunder and the “Parsee” was returning by the same route, with a cargo of 525 opium chests, valued at three lakhs of rupees, as well as a large number of native passengers on board; she had taken 45 when she touched at Surat. The collision took place in about 20° north of latitude, and 12 miles from the shore, about 11 o’clock at night, on 29th of October, in about 17 fathoms of water.

The night was fearfully dark and excepting the watch, all hands were asleep. It would appear that as both vessels had lights hung out, each was aware of the presence of the other, but unfortunately by mistake or ignorance , both altered their course in the same direction, and in consequence  the “Carnac” ran into the “Parsee”  on the starboard side, just abaft the foremast, cutting her side completely through.

The foremast of the “Parsee” was carried away by the bowsprit of the “Carnac” and immediately fell on the deck among the passengers, but providentially without hurting anyone. It was at once perceived that the fate of the “Parsee” was sealed, and her passengers and crew took advantage of the contact of the vessels to rush on board the “Carnac” for safety.

No time was lost in saving the whole of the passengers  and crew, consisting of 70 souls; and just as the last man stepped out of her, the little steamer sank.

The injury done to the steamer “Carnac” is trifling, her bowsprit was split and the bows injured.

She is undergoing the necessary repairs to enable her starting this day, 20th November, in prosecution of her voyage. This is the first collision in the Indian Seas.’

The London Standard also reported that £31,500 of coins was also lost.

Chines Opium Den

Chines Opium Den

The British East India Company had wanted to find a way to pay for what they bought in China other than using silver. It hit upon the idea of taking opium grown in India to use to pay the Chinese. Large sections of the Chinese became opium addicts and Britain and France fought various Opium Wars with the Chinese to keep the trade open. The East India Company declared a monopoly on the trade in India which was pretty solid in Bengal and Calcutta but in the west their control was much less and various local Parsi merchants got in on the act. Jeejeebhoy Dadabhoy, the owner of the two steamers which collided, was one of these Parsis,  hence the name Parsee, the ship commanded by Captain Grisdale. The other ship was named after a former Governor of Bombay Sir James Rivett Carnac.

The whole history of this opium trade is fascinating but I’ll leave it here.

So who was Captain Grisdale who had lost his ship and his opium? Was he perhaps Whitehaven-born Captain Joseph Grisdale who became a China Tea Clipper captain and died in Shanghai in 1859? Well I think not because Joseph only got his Master’s certificate in 1851.

That leaves only one possibility: Captain Grisdale was the Workington-born mariner Edward Grisdale who had been part of the crew of the convict ship Numa taking convicts to Sydney. He married one of the female convicts in Parramatta Female Factory in 1835. He then became a steamer Captain operating out of Tasmania before disappearing from the records. I wrote a story called Edward Grisdale’s convict wedding at Parramatta and one about his father called Ferrying Troops and emigrants – Captain Edward Grisdale of Workington.

So it was Workington-born Edward who was part of the India to China opium trade. Didn’t the family get around!

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

Along the Cumberland coast there are several towns that were important ports and mining centres from the seventeenth century onwards: Whitehaven, Maryport, Workington and Harrington. They are all within a few miles of each other. These towns and harbours were literally owned and developed by two powerful families. In the case of Whitehaven, the Lowthers, later Earls of Lonsdale. In the case of Workington and Harrington, the Curwens. Both families developed deep coal mines that ran out for miles under the sea. The ports were initially developed to transport their coal to Ireland but later developed and traded throughout the world. Our concern here is with a Grisdale family living in Harrington in the first half of the 1700s. 

Workington Hall - Seat of the Curwens

Workington Hall – Seat of the Curwens

To understand what this family might have been doing in Harrington at this time and what might have brought them there, we need to understand slightly more about the town, actually the village, itself.  ‘The manor was held of the fee of Workington by the Harrington (or ‘Haverington’) family in the 13th and 14th centuries.  It descended by marriage to Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk, executed 1554.  In 1556/7 the Crown granted Harrington to Henry Curwen of Workington; thereafter it descended with Workington.’ Coal mining in West Cumbria dates back to the 13th Century when the monks from St Bees Abbey supervised the opening of coal mines at Arrowthwaite. By 1688 there was at least one coal mine in Harrington Park ‘valued at £100 per year’ and also a salt pan at Lowca. It wasn’t until 1760 that Henry Curwen built a quay at Harrington on the south side of the River Wyre. Coal and limestone were soon being exported to Ireland from Harrington, and the increase in this trade led to the development of a local shipbuilding industry.

 At that time (1760) there were no houses in the area and no ships were recorded as belonging to Harrington. But by 1794 there were around 60 ships. The main cargoes were coal being shipped to Ireland from Curwen’s mines nearby, as well as lime from Distington to Scotland.

Harrington Harbour

Harrington Harbour

The Grisdales of Harrington were established there before the quay was built and thus, in all likelihood, they worked either in the early Curwen coal mines or possibly in the salt pan.

Henry ‘Grisedell’ was born in the nearby inland town of Wigton in 1668, the son of Alexander Grisedell and Katherine Yoward. Over the years the family name was recorded using all conceivable variants: Grisdale, Grisdell, Grisedell, Grizdale, Griesdale and Grizedale. I’ll use the more usual Grisdale. It appears that Henry married Ann Harrison in Skelton, Cumberland in 1688, but then, sometime before 1710, Henry moved to Harrington. His daughter Jane was baptized there in that year, followed by John in 1712,  Henry in 1713, Abraham in 1715, Sarah in 1722 and Isaac in  1723. All these children were baptized in St Mary’s Anglican parish church in Harrington, although names such as Abraham and Isaac might hint that there were non-conformist tendencies.

What became of these children? Abraham seems to disappear. Did he become a seamen and die somewhere unrecorded, or did he become a miner? I don’t know.

It seems that Isaac (baptized in 1723 but possibly born before) married Ellenor Sen in 1740, down the coast in Gosforth, Cumberland and had a child called Sarah in 1742 in St Bees.

Jane(1711) had an illegitimate son called Anthony in Arlecdon (Whitehaven) in 1745.

John (1712) married, because he had a son called Henry in nearby St Bees in 1740 and another named Anthony in 1744. This Henry married Elizabeth Hope in Whitehaven in 1761, although a daughter called Sarah had been born the year before, also in Whitehaven. More children followed: John 1767, Elizabeth 1772, Jane 1774, Henry 1777 and William 1779, all born and baptized in Whitehaven. I might return to the fate of these children at a later date. Did William become a Captain in the Muscovy Company or was that someone else? (see here).

Cumberland in 1720

Cumberland in 1720

On 10 June 1814, Arthur Wellesley, the Marquis of Wellington, had only just arrived in Bordeaux from St. Jean de Luz in the southwest of France. It seemed that the long war against Napoleon was over. In April an allied army had entered Paris and the strutting French emperor had abdicated. The French army had surrendered to the British after the Battle of Toulouse. Napoleon had been sent into exile on the Isle of Elba. Wellington was keen to get home and quit his army life; he had other things he wanted to do. But the evacuation of the British army in France was not yet complete. Wellington was busying himself with ordering his remaining forces to come to Bordeaux; from there to take ship to England. He was just waiting for sufficient transport ships to arrive.

Back in England ships were getting ready to sail to Bordeaux to pick up the troops. On 10 June an announcement appeared in the Liverpool newspapers which read as follows:

June 10 1814 for Bordeaux to sail in all this week the brig ‘NELSON’ Edward GRISDALE Master.

Captain Edward Grisdale was just one of the dozens of merchant masters and ship owners who had agreed (for a price) to go to Bordeaux to bring back the army. But of course he wanted to take some paying cargo onboard for the outward voyage to make the trip more profitable.

Quite a number of the ‘Matterdale’ Grisdales had served in the British army and navy throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the most famous being Levi Grisdale (see here). Levi had fought at the Battle of Toulouse in April, but, being a member of an elite cavalry regiment, the 10th Hussars, he, together with the rest of the cavalry, was to embark for home from the channel ports rather than from more distant Bordeaux.

In 1814 Captain Grisdale was forty-nine years old. He had been a mariner operating out of the Cumberland ports, as well as from Liverpool, since he was a young man. Edward was born in the bustling port of Workington in 1765. His father John, like his grandfather Edward too, had also been a Workington mariner. But sadly in 1777, when Edward was just twelve, his father drowned. On 27 December 1777 a Whitehaven newspaper reported:

Whitehaven, this morning: Workington mariner John Grisdale was found drowned in the harbour; he has left a wife, and several children.

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

Edward was one of at least four children. He had three sisters: Bella, Mary and Ann. As the only son Edward would have needed to start work as soon as possible to help support his widowed mother and sisters. Following his father and grandfather to sea was the logical course. Workington was quite a thriving town; its growth having been spurred by the discovery and mining of coal. Jollie’s Guide said the following about Workington in 1811:

WORKINGTON stands near the mouth of the Derwent, and is a considerable market-town and sea-port, containing about 6000 inhabitants. Many of the streets are narrow and irregular; but some are elegant and neat; and, upon the whole, this town is more agreeable than most ports of equal size in the kingdom. Though it seems to have been anciently the chief haven in Cumberland, yet it appears, that in 1566, only one vessel belonging thereto was of so great a burden as ten tons: and, on a survey taken of the maritime strength of the county about 20 years after that period, when England commanded the seas, all the vessels which Cumberland could put to sea amounted only to 10 in number, and their mariners to 198.

Workington has increased rapidly of late years, and many handsome buildings have been erected. The coal trade to Ireland is its chief support: a few vessels are, however, employed in the Baltic trade. The imports are timber, bar-iron, and flax. The river is navigable for ships of 400 tons burden; and the harbour is commodious, and extremely safe from all winds. There are now about 160 vessels belonging to this port; upon an average, of about 130 tons each. – The principal manufactories are of sail-cloth and cordage. The public buildings are modern; the church is a handsome structure, with a tower, or steeple, in the Gothic style. Here is a small but neat assembly-room, and a playhouse. – A new square, consisting of about 20 neat houses, was a few years ago built in the upper town, where the corn-market is held. – The butchers’ shambles are commodious. – The quays have been much widened and lengthened within the last 30 years. Not far from the town, a spacious workhouse, for the reception and support of the poor, was erected a few years ago, which cost the inhabitants £1600, and is calculated to contain 150 persons. – A considerable salmon fishery on this river belongs to Lord Lonsdale.

The collieries in the vicinity of Workington, which are numerous and valuable, belong to Mr. Curwen, who ships from thence about 150 waggons per day (Sundays excepted), each waggon containing three English tons of coals. Several steam-engines are employed in these coal-works, and between 500 and 600 men.

Messrs. Fenton and Murray, of Leeds, are erecting a steam-engine at Isabella pit, Chapel Bank, of 160 horse power, which exceeds in power any engine ever erected. The depth of the shaft is 150 fathoms, which is deeper than any of the shafts at Newcastle.

The manor house of the family of Curwen stands upon a fine eminence on the banks of the Derwent. It is an elegant quadrangular building, surrounded with excellent lands, in a fine state of cultivation. The house commands a prospect of the town, the river, and its northern banks, and the western ocean for a considerable tract. Mary, Queen of Scots, took refuge at this house, when she landed at Workington after her flight from Dundrannon, in Galloway, – and was hospitably entertained by Sir Henry Curwen, till the pleasure of Elizabeth was known; when she was removed, first to Cockermouth and then to Carlisle castle. The chamber in which she slept at Workington Hall is still called the Queen’s chamber.

Edward would certainly have been involved in the ‘Irish coal trade’, but he was obviously a man of some ambition and talent because not only did he eventually become a captain but he also was to own at least one ship himself, called the Mary after his wife Mary Robinson.

Workington St Michaels church

Workington St Michaels church

Edward married Mary Robinson in St. Michael’s Church in Workington on 26 October 1791. He was said to be a mariner. In 1811 we find Captain Edward Grisdale living in Town Head in Workington and it was said he was the Captain and owner of the 150 ton schooner Mary. Edward and Mary had several children: Sarah 1792, John 1796-1796 Mary Ann 1798, Edward 1802, Dorothy 1805-1811, Grace 1807 and Jane 1815. John died in infancy; Dorothy when she was just six. Edward, his only surviving son, was also later to become a Workington mariner, married a convict in Australia, and later became a ship’s captain himself, before disappearing from the records (see here).

Our Captain Grisdale had command of several ships during his long sea-faring career, such as the Mary (his own ship), the Nelson and the Frances Watson. There were probably others. After he’d brought back the soldiers from Bordeaux in 1814 we find him making trips to Canada and the United states, carrying both cargo and emigrants.

In 1825 Edward took command of the Maryport brig Francis Watson for its first voyage to New Orleans. The Cumberland Pacquet, Tuesday, 8th February 1825:

On Saturday was launched from the building yard of Messrs. K. Wood and Son, Maryport, a very fine copper-bottomed brig called the Francis Watson, burthen per register, 333 tons, and built for Messrs. Wood and Watson, of Liverpool.

‘At 333 tons, the Francis Watson was very large for a brig, but the newspaper report is consistent with the shipping registers, at least until 1830, when she was listed as a ship. The first voyage of the Francis Watson was from Maryport, departed Monday, 28th February 1825 for New Orleans.’ With, we know, Captain Grisdale in command.

Grisdale probably stayed with the Frances Watson for several transatlantic journeys, but later he was succeeded by another Cumberland captain called Sampson Bragg. Just to give a feel for what life could be like on board such ships, I quote the following report from 1829:

On the 30th June 1829 the master of the Francis Watson, Sampson Bragge, was arrested at London, accused of the murder of his steward, Lewis Sinclair. Evidence was taken from the crew, describing the ill-treatment of the steward on the voyage, which had started at Liverpool, then proceeded to Batavia, then Singapore and finally London. The steward had become drunk at Batavia and had been removed from his post to do the duties of a seaman. He was not up to the task, and the ill-treatment started subsequently. It included starvation, denial of water, beatings from the captain, mate and the “black fellows”, being hauled over the ship’s side, being forced to eat a lump of chalk and being smoked out of a hiding hole. The ill-treatment lasted two months until the victim became deranged, then eventually died, off the Scilly Isles on the 13th June. Bragge and the mate were committed to Newgate to await trial at the High Court. At that trial the evidence was repeated, but the jury found that the death of Lewis could not be ascribed to any particular act of violence, and the prisoners were acquitted. A similar sorry tale of ill-treatment can be found in the story of the Valiant two years earlier, the perpetrator being Captain Joseph Bragg, of Whitehaven.

Not long after the Francis Watson, with Bragg still as captain, ‘was driven on shore and wrecked, after landing her cargo, in Algoa Bay, during a gale, on the 13th January 1830’.

Death of John Franklin

Death of John Franklin

In the summer of 1826, we find Captain Grisdale in Quebec in command of the brig Nelson. He arrived in July from Liverpool and departed to Liverpool in September. While he was in Quebec the local newspapers were reporting the latest news of arctic explorer Captain John Franklin:

Arctic Land Expedition.— Despatches have been received from Captain Franklin, of the Arctic land expedition, dated Winter-quarters, Fort Franklin, on the great Bear Lake, September 6. During the summer, three expeditions, under Captain Franklin, Lieutenant Bach, and Dr. Richardson, were made, preparatory to the great objects to be undertaken next year. The expedition under Captain Franklin went to the mouth of the Mackenzie river, which he found to discharge itself into an open sea; there is one island near its mouth, called by Captain Franklin Garry’s Island.— From the summit of this island the Captain saw the sea to the northward all clear of ice or islands; to the westward he saw the coast to a great distance, his view terminating at very lofty mountains, which he calculates were in longitude 188 deg. west. The expedition would proceed early in the spring on its ulterior objects. The officers and men were all well and in spirits at the favourable circumstances which had hitherto attended their proceedings.

King's Wharf Quebec 1827

King’s Wharf Quebec 1827

The next year Grisdale was back in America, once again in New Orleans, this time as captain of the James Grant. He arrived from Liverpool on 10 December 1827. On arrival he made the following declaration:


I, E. Grisdale, Master or Commander of the ship James Grant, do solemnly, sincerely and truly swear, that the within list, signed by me and now delivered to the Collector of this District, contains the names of all the Passengers, taken on board the said James Grant at the Port of Liverpool or at any time since, and that all matters therein set forth are, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, just and true. I do further swear that none of the said Passengers have died on the voyage. Sworn before me, this 10 day of Decr. 1827. (signed) B. Chew, Collector, E. Grisdale.

List of all passengers taken on board the James Grant whereof Ed Grisdale is Master, at the Port of Liverpool and bound for New-Orleans.

Columns represent: name, age, sex, occupation, country to which they belong, country of which they intend to become inhabitants.

1 R. Ferriday      25  male    merchant   England   Alabama
2  Edw. Flynn       40  male    farmer     Ireland   Alabama
3  Pat. O’Bryan     35  male    farmer     Ireland   N. Orleans
4  Jno. McRea       28  male    farmer     Ireland   Tennessee
5 Ml. Eagan        30  male    farmer     Ireland   Tennessee
6  O. Flynn         10  male    boy        Ireland   Tennessee
7  Dan. Flynn        8  male    boy        Ireland   Tennessee
8  Mary Flynn       30  female             Ireland   Tennessee

(Signed)  E. Grisdale

New Orleans Mardi Gras

New Orleans Mardi Gras

This wasn’t, as we have seen, Grisdale’s first visit to New Orleans, but it is perhaps interesting to note that New Orleans had only recently became part of the United States after the American government had ‘purchased’ Louisiana from the defeated French. The people of New Orleans were now free to dance and play music again. Only a few months before Edward Grisdale arrived on the Frances Watson, the first Mardi Gras had taken place:

February 27, 1827: The first Mardi Gras celebrations were held in New Orleans.

The first Mardi Gras celebrations were held in New Orleans. Inspired by similar celebrations in Paris, group of masked students paraded through the street on this day, marking the first Mardi Gras celebrations. Early French settlers had had similar celebrations, but they had been banned throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Once Louisiana became part of the US, the ban was lifted and Mardi Gras celebrations began to take place annually.

We find a few others mentions of Captain Grisdale in the records, but soon after his 1827 New Orleans voyage Edward Grisdale probably either took his retirement, or perhaps died. Perhaps he saw off his son Edward on the convict ship Numa in 1834. Son Edward was, I believe, a mate on the Numa (he was certainly part of the ship’s crew).

Captain Grisdale left no descendants with the Grisdale name as far as I can see. His daughter Grace (1807) went on to marry Workington registrar Henry Hayton and had a number of children. She lived with her unmarried older sister Sarah, who was a schoolmistress.

Workington Harbour

Workington Harbour

And that is about all I know about Captain Edward Grisdale. When had his family first come to Workington? As I mentioned both his father John (born in 1741 in Workington) and his grandfather Edward had been Workington mariners. But where had grandfather Edward come from? I don’t yet know for sure. He certainly had not been born in Workington nor in the other Cumberland ports of Whitehaven or Maryport. I tend to think he was related to seventeenth century Edward Grisdale Senior and Edward Grisdale Junior, both of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale. This is based on some circumstantial evidence regarding family naming patterns, dates and by a process of exclusion, but I can’t yet definitively prove the link.

The Grisdale family came from the hills of Matterdale in Cumberland. This means that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most of them were tenant farmers or were involved in rural trades, such as blacksmithing, either in Matterdale itself or in the neighbouring parishes of Watermillock, Threlkeld, Barton, Martindale and Patterdale. Of course some joined the clergy and others either emigrated or went into the army. Yet there were a surprising number who at one point or another made the journey to the nearby Cumbrian ports of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport to follow a life at sea. Some of them, or their descendents, subsequently moved on to from there to Liverpool and London.

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

For example, when the American War of Independence started the port of Whitehaven set up a defence fund in early 1778. Local citizens gave quite generously. The contributors included two Grisdales: a certain John Grisdale of Queen Street, who gave £1. 1s , and another, listed mysteriously as ‘Grisdale of Quay’, who gave  2s. The Scottish-born and Whitehaven-trained American privateer John Paul Jones did in fact make a raid on the port on 23 April 1778, which wasn’t of much import really but has become part of American historical naval folklore. Then there was a poignant notice in a Whitehaven newspaper on 27 December 1777 which read,

Whitehaven, this morning: Workington mariner John Grisdale was found drowned in the harbour; “ he has left a wife, and several children.”

Also in Workington a mariner called Edward Grisdale married Mary Robinson in 1791. He was still there in 1811, as a Captain, living in Town-end. He was the owner of a ship named Mary – probably after his wife. It’s likely that his son, also called Edward and a mariner himself, went to Australia in 1834 and married a convict in Parramatta with whom he had shared the voyage to Sydney on the convict ship Numa. And finally in 1809 we find a Captain William Grisdale in London. He was the master of a Muscovy Company ship which was set to sail for Antigua. Now all of these sea-faring Grisdales found their roots in Matterdale. But their stories are for another time.

My little tale here concerns a Whitehaven mariner called Matthew Grisdale, who disappeared for some years in Victoria in Australia, only to return to Cumberland – where he died shortly thereafter.

Roper Street, Whitehaven

Roper Street, Whitehaven

The story starts with his grandfather, also called Matthew Grisdale, who was born in Martindale, Westmorland in 1852 and who, when young, had moved to Whitehaven and became a successful and ultimately wealthy ‘corn factor’. When he died in 1838 he divided his considerable fortune, somewhat unevenly it seems, between his surviving children. His first child was called John Grisdale (1785 -1852). In his will his father Matthew left him, from his estate of over £10,000, his ‘ house and shop warehouse and premises’ in Whitehaven plus £600 cash and £400 stock. John became a ‘Grocer’. This probably meant he ran some sort of wholesale grocery – think at least the equivalent of Robert Onedin in the TV series The Onedin Line. He carried on his business in a shop at 35 Roper Street, Whitehaven. On 9 October 1815 John married Hannah Watson in Whitehaven. The Watson family was itself a sea-going family. John and Hannah Grisdale had five children; Matthew was the second to be born. He was baptized in Whitehaven’s Holy Trinity Church on 5 April 1820. For reasons we don’t know, but probably influenced by the many family connections to the sea in Whitehaven, Matthew first went to sea as an apprentice in 1935 aged just 15. This means he was on track to become a Mate and maybe even a Captain. Matthew’s seaman’s records tell us that he got his 2nd mate’s ticket in April 1845 when he was 25 – he had a ‘scar on his forehead’. What ships he served on in his early years is unknown,  but given his subsequent career it is likely that at least some of the time he was aboard ships built and owned by the Whitehaven and Liverpool shipping line and ship builders of Thomas and John Brocklebank.

The Brocklebank Line Flag

The Brocklebank Line Flag

In the relatively short period that the government insisted upon each merchant seaman’s every voyage being recorded (the seamen hated the system because it just helped the government to know who it could impress into the Royal Navy) we find that Matthew made several voyages to and from Liverpool between 1845 and 1848 – always listed as being born in Whitehaven.

The last maritime record we have of him was in 1854. After arriving back in Liverpool, he was signed on as a Mate aboard the 338 ton Brocklebank-owned barque Patriot King – which had been built by the Brocklebank shipyard in Bransty, Whitehaven in 1832. And then Matthew disappears from our records. But not quite! In late 1857 in the Melbourne Argus the same notice appeared twice:

If Matthew Grisdale of Whitehaven in the County of Cumberland, England, who sailed from England to Melbourne in July, 1854, will communicate with Mr Clayton, solicitor, Melbourne, or with Messrs Brookbank and Helder, solicitors, Whitehaven, he will hear something to his advantage. Whitehaven 11 March 1857.

Clipper Marco Polo

Clipper Marco Polo

So it seems that Matthew had either jumped ship in Melbourne to join the Victoria gold rush, which thousands of other mariners did at the time, often leaving dozens of ships without any crew. Or (less likely) he had only signed on for the outward voyage, to work his passage to Australia and departed legally. The natural conjecture would be that he had sailed to Australia on the Patriot King, to which he had been signed in 1854. But had he? The Patriot King made many voyages but as far as I can see they were all to India, China, Batavia (Java) and even to South America for the Guano trade. I don’t think the Patriot King ever went to Australia? So maybe Matthew went on another ship. We are told by the Melbourne newspaper notices that he had left ‘England’ for Melbourne in July 1854. Looking at the shipping records it is possible he made his voyage on one of James’ Baines’ Black Ball Line ships regularly plying Liverpool to Melbourne ‘gold rush’ runs. Maybe on the famous Marco Polo commanded by Captain Wild:

The Marco Polo sailed from the Mersey on the 22nd July and reached the equator after 35 days, which included 10 days becalmed in the Bay of Biscay. The only good weather she encountered was on the run from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Otway, taking 26 days.

There were two or three deaths on the passage, one was a cabin passenger, William Gore Tipper. On the 1st October he was thrown overboard when the ship lurched. It was dark at the time and the ship was travelling at 11 knots, there was no chance of rescue.

Or possibly on the equally famous Star of the East which left Liverpool on the 4 July 1854 and arrived in Melbourne on 23 September 1854.

The newspaper notices in Melbourne in late 1857 were dated 11 March 1857 in Whitehaven and the Whitehaven contact was the firm of solicitors Brookbank and Helder, who dealt with all of the Grisdale family’s legal matters; as well as those of most of the major sea-faring families in the town. We have no idea whether Matthew saw these newspaper notices or not. He was most likely somewhere in the Victoria gold diggings at the time, trying to make his fortune. But it’s a pretty good conjecture that the ‘something to his advantage’ was that he had been left something significant in the will of his unmarried brother William, who had died in Whitehaven in January/February 1857. The dates fit.

The Orwell

The Orwell

Whatever the case, sooner or later Matthew either saw the notices or he decided that he wasn’t going to be one of the lucky few who would strike it rich at the diggings. In 1860 he paid ‘aged 40’ for his own passage home to England on the ship Orwell, which departed from Melbourne for London in July.  The ship made it safely back with Matthew aboard. No doubt when he made it home to Whitehaven he got his inheritance from his brother. Was he able to continue with his maritime career? Did he want to or have to? We don’t know. All we know is that less than four years after his arrival back in England Matthew Grisdale died aged just 43 in Cumberland. The index of his will says the following:

29 February 1864 – Letters of Administration of the Personal Estate and effects of Matthew Grisdale late of Whitehaven… Mariner in the Merchant Service a Bachelor deceased 13 February 1864 at North Mosses in the Parish of Arlecdon… (Effects under £800)

Alecdon is just a couple of miles inland from Whitehaven and many sea-farers retired there. There are also a number of family connections with the village – Matthew’s mother Hannah was even born there.

Maybe Matthew had became ill in Australia? Maybe he died so young for other reasons. Who can say? It’s just one short life, but a full and interesting one I think.


See also:

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.