A welcome addition to Trove newspapers has been the Geelong Advertiser, first with just some early issues and now from 1857 to 1918. With many family members having links to Geelong I was reasonably hopeful the Advertiser would have something for me. There were some useful Combridge “Family Notices” and land applications, but the most insightful articles were those about my ancestor who frequented the courts. That’s right, my ggg grandmother Ellen Gamble (nee Barry) of Colac was in the news again.
Links to earlier posts about Ellen are at the bottom of this post, but in short she was an Irish immigrant who, when intoxicated , was a loud, carousing and sometimes pugnacious drunk. Any occasion was a good occasion for Ellen to partake and as she once told the court in her Irish accent, she needed a drink for a bad cold, to “put her to rights”. The frequency of her drinking often met with serious consequences. Aside from the neglect her children suffered, by the 1870s her encounters with the law had reached an alarming number.
At the time of her death in 1882, a tragic result of her drinking, Ellen was living apart from her husband Thomas Gamble. From the Geelong Advertiser of January 15, 1866, I found their troubles started long before 1882. In 1866, 40-year-old Ellen faced charges for various offences occurring outside Bradley’s Hotel in Colac. Still intoxicated the following day, she appeared in court blaming Thomas for her misdemeanors. To prevent a recurrence she was locked up for three days. Feeling vengeful, Ellen immediately charged Thomas with failure to support her and the children. Although Thomas was able to show cause and the case dismissed, the revelations in the Colac Police court revealed much about the Gamble family’s troubles.
Ten years on and little had changed. By 1876, 50-year-old Ellen had faced the Colac Police Court 33 times. For her latest charge of drunkenness, Ellen was sentenced to seven days imprisonment at the Geelong Gaol.
Joining Ellen on the 46 mile trip to Geelong was Mary Lennon, herself a regular at the court.
The magistrate recommended that in future, Ellen and Mary should face more serious charges to ensure a longer prison term.
So, at the expense of the state, the “two dames” were sent by coach to the Geelong Gaol. And what a formidable place awaited them. I visited the Old Geelong Gaol about two years ago, then unaware that Ellen too had been behind those same bluestone walls.
The following You Tube clip has further information about the history of the Old Geelong Gaol and the conditions endured.
It’s not the first time I’ve come across Ellen’s accomplice Mary Lennon. She gave evidence at the inquest into Ellen’s death. Now knowing a little more about Mary, it makes me wonder how seriously her evidence was taken on that occasion.
Mary’s life did not improve after her time in jail. Some of the articles I have read about her bring to light poverty, brutality, neglect and alcoholism . The saddest came only months after Mary’s imprisonment in 1876. On November 1, 1876 she and her husband Patrick were charged with vagrancy and imprisoned. Their neglected children went to an Industrial School for a year.
Ellen didn’t learn her lesson from her imprisonment. Three years later, the court kept a promise and Ellen was sentenced to twelve months at Geelong Gaol.
Twelve months of drying out did not help Ellen in any way. Two years after her release she was burnt to death at aged 55 because alcohol had taken its hold on her again.
Ellen and Mary’s antics conjure up comical characters from a Dickens’ novel, but sadly they were real characters. Pitiful and unfortunate characters attesting to the realities of poverty in Victoria’s country towns during the 19th century. However, Ellen’s presence in my family story has given me a glimpse of another side of life at a time when most of my ancestors were self-sufficient temperate church-goers who only set foot inside a court if called as a witness.
Previous posts about Ellen Barry: