A Tragic Night – 24 January 1882

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.

A WOMAN BURNT TO DEATH. (1882, January 26). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 8. Retrieved January 19, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11530343


ACCIDENTS AND OFFENCES. (1882, February 22). Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne, Vic. : 1876 – 1889), p. 22. Retrieved January 23, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63185567

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.

Port Phillip. (1841, January 21). Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW : 1839 – 1843), p. 2. Retrieved January 24, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31730577

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.

DESTRUCTION OF ST. MARY’S CATHEDRAL, IN SYDNEY, BY FIRE. (1865, July 1). The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), p. 3. Retrieved January 24, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18696838

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.

Port Phillip. (1841, January 4). The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW : 1838 – 1841), p. 2 Edition: MORNING. Retrieved January 24, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32187808

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. 

ST. FRANCIS CHURCH, MELBOURNE 1845. Image printed from stone by Thomas Ham. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/108235

ST. FRANCIS CHURCH, MELBOURNE 1845. Image printed from stone by Thomas Ham. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/108235

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”.


Ellen’s Inquest

Ellen’s Incarceration

23 thoughts on “A Tragic Night – 24 January 1882

    • Still a lot more work to be done on the Gamble brick works. A trip to Colac would go a long way towards rectifying that. There was also Gamble bricks in Melbourne, but I’m yet to find a link.
      As for the children, yes I have one and there are days…


  1. Great story Merron. Love your blog.

    This is the baptismal entry for Edward Gamble from the Victorian Pioneers Index.

    Surname: GAMBOL
    Given Names: Edward
    Event: B
    Spouse Surname/Father: Thomas
    Spouse Gvn Names/Mother: Helen BARRY
    Birth Place: ASHB
    Year: 1847
    Reg Number: 2383
    Denomination: ROMAN CATHOLIC
    Fiche: 30

    I think You’re right about the place being Ashby rather than Ashbourne. Ancestry apparently ‘suggests’ what abbreviated words should be.
    See Susie Zada’s enlightening blog on this subject.



    • Thank you Jenny for your comments, I’m glad you like my blog.
      I am very wary of the towns, dates even on Ancestry. Having done a lot of my research using the Pioneer Index etc, I’m sometimes shocked by the variations that come up.
      I will check out Susie’s blog post, thank you.


      • There are still plenty of Gamble’s in the Colac area. I have a feeling some may even still own the site the cottage burnt on. I agree with the Ashby line, many of my relatives were from that area and listed on Geelong registers.


  2. A sad story Merron -the only consolation being that she left trails in the records. There was something inherently tragic about some of the early Irish settlers -why I don’t know. I’ve been very impressed with Susie Zada’s talks despite having no specific interest. What you’ve very clearly demonstrated is the importance of using siblings to get answers/confirmation of family records.


  3. Ellen Gamble was my great great great grandmother too. Thankyou for your info. I had already come across the fire story, but your info about Ellen’s immigration and other run ins with the law was news to me.


  4. Ellen Gamble-Barry is my husband’s great great great grandmother.though another of her descendants I have only recenly discovered her. I wonder how my descendant of Ellen Barry’s are alive today. What legacy did she give them.


  5. Rhonda & Heather thank you both for commenting. I hoped my post of Ellen might “shake the family tree” so to speak as I haven’t found many living descendants to date.

    I am interested to see which of Thomas & Ellen’s children you are descended from Rhonda and your husband too Heather. My gg grandfather was Matthew and his son Joseph was my great grandfather.

    Heather, I know all of Joseph Gamble’s children didn’t follow their father. I think they saw enough of Joseph’s antics not to follow in his footsteps, plus they had a lovely mother in Edith Diwell.

    Thomas Gamble himself appeared a few times in the Colac courts for drunkenness, so life for their children must have been tough.


  6. Hi Merron
    I am descended from Ellen’s six year old granddaughter in the fire story. My grandfather was Mary Ann’s fourth son, unknown to the family as he was given up soon after his birth. There are more than 45 descendants down this line of the family. Regards from Rhonda


  7. Hi Merron

    Great story my partner descends from the gambles of colac his grandfather was Albert Gamble we believe his family owned the brickworks at Colac


    • Hi Joanne,
      Great to hear from you. I’m glad you liked the story of Ellen Barry.
      I have three “Albert Gambles”, on my tree Albert Edgar b 1887, Albert Joseph b 1883 and Albert Henry b 1905. Albert Edgar was my great grandfathers brother and Albert Henry was his nephew. Albert Joseph is a grandson of George Gamble who is mentioned in this post. Do any of these fit in that you know of?


  8. Merron if you make the trip to Colac, the HUGE and CRAMMED history centre shares a building with the movie theatre, adjacent to rail station, and the history ladies are very helpful – they seem to know every family without having to look it up, plus they have drawers and drawers full of filed images so I hope you are lucky there. DO be sure to know their Opening Hours before you travel.

    re all the generations of Albert Gambles – thank God for Second Names.


  9. Hi Merron,

    Thanks for your reply! My partners name is Richard Gamble his father is Norman George Gamble a son of Albert Joseph Gamble who is George Gambles (the one mentioned in the post) son or grandson?

    Thanks Joanne.


    • Thanks for getting back to me Joanne. Yes, Albert with the unknown father! I don’t suppose you know who he his father was? It looks as though George & Maryann may have raised him. He was older than their youngest child. Merron


    • Hi Joanne, Im Richard’s cousin Dianne. My father was Harry Gamble who is the brother of Norman George (George) and their father was Albert Joseph Gamble. George had a different mother to his other siblings, his mother was Ethel May Romanis and Harry and Deborah, Heather, Robert, Ada and Betty’s mother was Annie Ellen Chelberg.Alberts mother was actually Isabella Gamble, the daughter of George Luke and Maryann Lowry, however he was brought up to believe George & Maryann was his mother as Isabella was around 16 when she had him. Id love to hear from any Gamble’s out there, you can contact me by emailing me at didicastles@hotmail.com


      • Hi Di
        Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found my blog. Hopefully we might me able to find some more family members. Considering I have only done one post on the Gambles, I have had more of a response than I have for my other families. Since the post on Ellen Barry, I now have her inquest record which has some great witness statements. I hope to post about the inquest sometime soon.


  10. Hi Merron,

    Unfortunately, We do not know who Alberts father is in fact we did not really know for sure if Isabella Gamble or her mother Maryanne Gamble was his mother regards Joanne


  11. Hi Merron,
    I do eventually appear again. I wonder where these last few months have gone. Maryanne Gamble grand daughter and the the grand daughter mentioned on the night of the file that Ellen Barry-Gamble perished in, is my husband’s Great Grandmother. Rhonda and my husband are 2nd/3rd cousins. There are many things and stories still yet undiscovered, maybe with the passing of time they too will pass. One does think how lucky we all are that our ancestors (and whilst these are my husband’s ancestors my own too made the significant journey either by their choice or another governments choice) we are all supremely lucky to live in this country and I am sure our ancestors will be proud of who we are as people.
    It is hard to try and understand the lives our forebears had when we compare them to our lives of today. But one would assume that to leave your family and never see them again in your live would have been a huge and almost insurmoutable situation. One does what one must do to survive.



  12. Pingback: Friday Finds 3 Feb 2017 – Lois Willis – Genealogy and Family History

  13. Hello Merron
    Ellen’s sister Mary was my Great great great grandmother – I have been chasing information on her for many years – I am mainly interested in her parents and her life in Ireland. I have death certificates for the 3 Barry sisters and it is intriguing to note that the name of their mother is different on each one – Johanna on Mary’s, Ellen on Ellen’s and Catherine on Catherine’s – I spent a lot of time sorting that one out. though the discrepancy is understandable. I also found Edward and Johanna on English census and IF that information in correct – they later returned to Ireland on lived until a great age – each of them
    I wonder if you have anything to add to the parents of Ellen and anything else of interest?
    Great work by the way


Leave a Reply to Di Castles Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.