Late on 24 January 1882, Mrs Ellen Gamble of Colac was lonely. Calling at her son’s home, a few doors from her own cottage, she tried to persuade him to drink rum with her. He refused, so she suggested her six-year-old granddaughter, Mary Ann, go home with her for company. Thankfully, the child was already asleep and her mother refused. Ellen returned to her empty home and continued to drink. Her husband lived elsewhere in the town, probably because of her intemperance. At some point in the late hours of the day, an incident occurred, most likely involving a candle, which would see her small weatherboard cottage quickly go up in flames. With the fire doused, little remained. That night my ggg grandmother made the news. It may not have been the first time, but it would be the last.
How did a woman, in her late fifties and mother of seven come to live this seemingly lonely, drunken existence?
Ellen Barry was born in Ireland around 1823, the daughter of Edward Barry and Johanna Gould. It was some time before I had any leads on her arrival in Australia, but I knew it was early as I had found her marriage in 1844 to Thomas Gamble. Thanks to the website Came to Port Phillip by 1847, I was able to find out more not only of her arrival, but her character.
There are three “Ellen Barrys” listed on the site. One is a seventeen-year-old from Tipperary, Ireland arriving in December 1840 aboard the Orient with her older sister Mary. I decided to trace Mary Barry and found her marriage to Robert Walker in 1841, time spent in Colac in 1852 and her death in 1905. Her parents were Edward Barry and Johanna Gould. Through Mary, I had found my Ellen.
The girls were bounty passengers. Something that made me think I had found the right girls was a report on the voyage. Mary, nineteen, and a group of up to twenty girls were disruptive during the trip and Mary’s bounty was withheld from the immigration agent, Mr Marshall. Allegations included them causing problems among the married couples and distracting the crew from their work. One can only imagine the behaviour they were engaging in.
Bawdy Irish girls were not the only cargo on the ship making the news. A pipe organ for St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney was a much-anticipated arrival, as reported in the Australian Chronicle (Sydney 1839-1849) on 26 January 26 1841. Sadly too, it came to a fiery end in 1865 when the Cathedral was destroyed by fire, as reported in the Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser on 1 July 1865.
Also on board was a pure bred Durham bull imported by none other than immigration agent, Mr Marshall. It appears to have been better cared for than the human cargo.
After finding a reference to Ellen in the book “St Mary’s Geelong: It’s Founding Community“, a check of the Orient passenger list was called for as the Biographical Index in the book, lists Ellen, (Helen in the book) as arriving on the Thetis in 1842 with a sister Mary. The passenger lists are available online at NSW State Records. The list for the Orient shows Ellen, seventeen and Mary, nineteen from Tipperary, Ireland, Roman Catholic, neither able to read or write and their occupations were housemaids. The passenger list for the Thetis had only an Anne Barry aged twenty-seven from Clare, no Ellen or Mary.
Ellen stayed in Melbourne after her arrival and in 1844 she married Thomas Gamble at St Francis Catholic Church, Victoria’s first Catholic church.
Their first child, Matthew, my gg grandfather, was born in Newtown in 1845. “St Mary’s Geelong: It’s Founding Community” mentions early church records showing his birthplace as the Newtown which became Collingwood.
Edward was born in 1847. The Ancestry Australian Birth Index shows his birthplace as Ashbourne, near Woodend. I tend to think it is Ashby, Geelong, later to become Geelong West, as third son Mark Thomas was born in 1851 at Kildare, Geelong, now also known as Geelong West.
Soon after, the Gamble family moved to Colac as brickmaker Thomas had a job opportunity in the town. The move would see him set up a brick making business in Colac.
Thanks to the wonderful Geelong and District database, I was able to find the also wonderful, award-winning online Colac Court of Petty Sessions register 1849-1865. It is a pleasure to read the digital images of the register and to see the original handwriting. Ellen appeared seven times from 1851 to 1860. Most offences stemmed from drunkenness.
- December 1851 – faced the Colac court for being drunk – charge dismissed.
- Monday 9 October 1854 – faced court for being drunk on Rice’s Licensed Premises – fined £2
- 2 January 1856 – unknown charge – fined £2
- 30 May 1857 – fined 2/7 for breaking glass
- 5 July 1857 – drunk and using obscene language – dismissed
- 22 July 1857 – drunk in a public place £1 fine – if not paid “to be locked up for one week”
- 30 October 1860 – drunk
Ellen was aged twenty-five to thirty-four during this time and by 1861 she had seven children, the eldest fifteen and four under five. She had babies in 1851, 1856 and 1857 when five of the offences were committed.
It seems Ellen left a legacy. Her son William Gamble faced court for a domestic dispute with his wife’s sister and husband. A grandson, Robert Gamble, faced court for petty crimes and at one stage was in imprisoned in a reformatory and escaped! Another grandson, Joseph Henry Gamble, my great-grandfather also battled with alcohol, committed petty crimes and died alone, estranged from his family.
That brings us back to 1882 and the night Ellen died in such sad circumstances, which saw her reported in the papers as either an old or elderly woman. Sadly her last newspaper account was not a glowing obituary such as those posted at Passing of the Pioneers. She was a pioneer, one of the early ones, normally held in high regard, yet Ellen was remembered as an old drunken woman who died in a fire. To date, I have found twelve different newspaper reports on her death and I am sure I will find more, not only of that fateful day but her earlier activities.
There is a reference to Ellen in the book “Wild and Wondrous Women of Geelong“, this time as a victim of an attack by another woman, but I doubt it was without provocation. That is how I like to remember Ellen, one of my favourite ancestors, as a “Wild and Wondrous Woman”.
MORE ABOUT ELLEN BARRY