Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Ironbark Brig from Manning River

This small advertisement appeared in a number of Liverpool, UK, newspapers in August of 1845.

Length 75 feet, breadth 19 feet 6-10ths, depth 12 feet, 143 tons.
This beautiful vessel was built in New South Wales, framed throughout with iron bark, planked with flooded gum, each equal in durability to East India teak; coppered and copper fastened; her sailing qualities are first rate, her passage from Sydney 108 days; shifts without ballast, and is of an easy draft of water.
For further particulars apply on board, in the Union Dock; to
T. R. Robins, Hatton-garden, or to
D. TONGE, Broker, 7, Castle Street.

I first encountered a reference to this ship when visiting the Swansea Maritime Museum in Wales some years ago, where its name appeared in a list of local well-known 19th Century vessels in which many Swansea men had crewed.

With time limited, I was unable to investigate further at the museum but was intrigued as to its origins as I had previously researched the life and times of Benjamin Boyd, an enterprising scallywag who became infamous in Colonial Australia and who had fascinated me so much that I made him the subject of my first novel. *  

Naturally, I had wondered if the vessel was somehow connected to him but with Boyd being a Scot, and with no known connections to Wales, I assumed it was just a coincidental name.

Benjamin Boyd (1801-1851), a rare water-damaged image
owned by the late Mr Rene Davison of Eden, NSW

I remembered that visit to the museum when recently I stumbled on another reference to this vessel and with much more information now available via old newspapers on the Internet I decided to see if I could find out more about it.

The “Triton” was the first brig of three built by master boat-builder John Nicholson in 1844 on the Manning River, New South Wales, where the town of Taree now stands.

Briefly owned by early Colonial mariner, Captain George Browning (a remarkable character whose own hair-raising story of being kidnapped by escaped convicts is worthy of another novel), it was then bought in Sydney by a Captain Tomkins, who changed the name of the brig from “Triton” to “Benjamin Boyd”, after the prominent entrepreneur then at the height of his power and influence in New South Wales.

Unidentified Australian two-masted brig, Hobart.
Many similar coastal trading brig images at Tasmanian Maritime Museum

Tomkins sailed the small brig to England with a cargo of wool and other goods, but with an economic depression taking hold in the Colony (destined to be the ruin of Boyd) and perhaps debts owing or due on Tomkins' own account, the vessel never returned to Sydney and was put up for sale.

Apparently it was then re-registered with Bristol as its home port and with registration No. 7803, beginning a long and busy career sailing back and forth around the British Isles, Europe and West Africa with various cargoes including timber and coal and it spent many years bringing imports of wine and spirits from Spain and Portugal to England.

It was inevitable that the vessel would suffer wear and tear and several mishaps as a result of storms and the following sad report appeared in a Norwich newspaper in 1868 when its then master and part-owner, Samuel Nicholas, suffered such depression that he jumped overboard.

But the vessel must have been rescued and repaired as she appeared again for sale in Bristol and passed into new hands periodically during every decade that followed, with various owners in Glamorgan, Belfast, Wexford and Somerset.

Sturdy and reliable, the little two-masted ironbark brig “Benjamin Boyd” criss-crossed the seas a remarkable 62 years from when she was built!

Her end came on 27 November 1906 when she collided off Penarth with a tramp steamer and her owner and master at the time was Thomas Chidgey, who was a well-known marine artist. **

It seems the steamer  “Gardepee” ^ was in the wrong, but fortunately Captain Chidgey, his son Robert who was the Mate, and the other crew all escaped. The cargo and “Benjamin Boyd” was fully insured. Being of sound and reliable construction, throughout her career she was always listed as A1 at Lloyds.

The vessel would have employed generations of sailors during that time, many of them possibly from the same families. The Swansea Mariners project provides some of these names, including, to my surprise, a Captain Jewell/Jewill from Clovelly, possibly a distant ancestor of my late husband who is descended from Jewells in that area.

It also may be that another of my husband’s ancestors, another seafarer, John Darch, was familiar with the comings and goings of the vessel having been a both a member of the Welsh Coastguard and a gateman on the dock gates at West Bute Dock at the time when the sturdy little ironbark brig from New South Wales finally ended her days, being salvaged and put up for auction.

One has to wonder where all that ironbark and flooded gum wood went after the vessel was stripped. 

Perhaps some was used to repair other vessels, perhaps it went into building timber, floors or even pieces of furniture. It could be that Australian timber pieces from the  “Benjamin Boyd” still exist somewhere.

But what a fine testament to the quality of the workmanship and skills of John Nicholson who built her so long ago on the banks of what was then a remote Australian river. #

Barque "Fanny Fisher", the third vessel built by John Nicholson
 on the Manning River, NSW, in the 1840s and which also had a 60 year career


* "Time and a Legend" is currently out of print.

** Chidgey was born in 1855, eleven years after the “Benjamin Boyd” first started her career. There are a handful of his paintings to be seen online, but he is supposed to have painted hundreds and surely somewhere there is one of the “Benjamin Boyd”. 

^  She was eventually sunk by a U-boat during World War I with the loss of most of her crew.

# Sadly, John Nicholson drowned accidentally aged just 49. 

Numerous reference sources include TROVE, British Newspaper Archive, Crew Lists UK, Boat Registers NSW, National Archives UK, Ancestry, FindmyPast, Manning Historical Society, ArtFind UK, Australian National Maritime Museum, Tasmanian and West Australian Maritime Museums.

(Apparently at this Swansea hotel you can stay in bedrooms named after well-known local ships, one of them being the “Benjamin Boyd”!)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Taking the waters

As we hunker down hoping to avoid a deadly 21st Century disease, our ancestors were no strangers to doing the same in order to avoid a range of plagues and illnesses that swept through their communities on a regular basis. To try and combat them, all manner of cures and preventative measures came in and out of fashion, many based in superstition and fear, others were exploitative “quackery”, but some had merit and still have their supporters today. 

Since ancient times, there have always been those who believed in the remedy to “take the waters” at mineral springs or spas. (The English town of Bath being one of the most famous examples.) The Victorians and Edwardians were particularly keen to try and avoid the threats from diseases and pollution in their congested towns and cities. One such establishment that flourished from the mid-1800s to early 1900s is just a few minutes’ drive from where I live.

(My photo)

It once stood on the shores of Corio Bay near Geelong and was the Clifton Springs mineral springs and spa complex. At its height it was serviced by regular ferry services around Port Phillip Bay from the city of Melbourne and holiday-makers, the ill or infirm would flock to take advantage of the supposedly health-giving properties of the mineral spring water.

Three of the popular Port Phillip Bay steamers

Although almost no sign of them remain today, there were originally at least seven springs emerging from the cliffs along the shore of the bay. These were concentrated in just a fifty metre stretch of beach known as “The Dell”.

The Dell today. Remains of the 1890 jetty can still be seen.
(My photo.)

Promenading along in front of the bath house

The springs first appeared on the Lands Department survey maps in 1854 and by the 1870s the site consisted of a commercial bottling facility, kiosk, bath house and pumping station. Overlooking all this activity was a magnificent hotel offering every luxury and, by 1880, the bottling company was selling 5,000 bottles of the spring water annually.

Unfortunately by the mid-1920s, the once health-giving springs had become polluted and were more likely to make you ill than well and the whole complex was forced to close. The original hotel burnt down in 1921 and all the other Victorian era buildings had disappeared by 1925.

If you wander along the foreshore, there are still some archaeological remains to be found of the bottling and pumping activities, bits of bottles or ceramics and old metal pipes. 

Archaelogical remains
Weekend Notes

Where the elegant hotel once stood is the rather blah mid-20th Century Clifton Springs Golf Club building, although it is worth visiting the bistro just for the view. Plus a sprint up and down the steep incline or steps to The Dell is today’s way of keeping fit!

One of the steamers, Ozone, was wrecked further down the Bay at Indented Head and one of its paddle wheels is still visible today.

Wreck of Ozone today

More detailed information in the following links.

All photos from TROVE unless otherwise stated.

Bellarine Historical Society

Victorian Heritage Council

Saturday, February 1, 2020

"Like pearls on velvet" - the Russian Irishman

John Field is a name that may be unfamiliar to many music lovers, but he deserves to be rediscovered and played more widely. He is credited with being the inventor of the nocturne, although it is Frederic Chopin who is now most closely associated with the form.

I happened to first hear one of Field’s nocturnes on a classical broadcast some years ago and was instantly drawn to the music. When I discovered the composer was an Irishman who had his greatest success in early 19th Century Russia, it seemed to fit perfectly with what I was listening to; the lyrical echo of an Irish soul combined with that Russian love of melancholy romanticism.

Like Mozart, Field was a child prodigy. He was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatrical violinist. He received his early musical education from his grandfather who was an organist, and later from Tommaso Giordani.

At the age of ten, John Field made his first public appearance in Dublin. The family then moved to England spending time between London and Bath. John served an apprenticeship with Muzio Clementi while working part time as a piano salesman.

While still a boy, he appeared at Covent Garden and other London theatres. He first performed his own piano concerto at the King’s Theatre in 1799 to mixed reviews, although one observer considered him to be “one of the finest performers in this kingdom”.

Even after he had served his apprenticeship, John remained somewhat subservient to Clementi and travelled with him throughout Europe. After the pair had been in St. Petersburg during 1803, Clementi left but Field stayed behind and through patronage of one General Marklovsky, he finally came into his own. His music became fashionable in the music salons and he was in demand as a private teacher. In 1806 he made his debut in Moscow. His entry in the ODB says:

During this time Field developed the genre that he eventually called the nocturne and for which he became renowned throughout Europe. The nocturne is a one-movement piece characterized by a dreamy atmosphere but with no specific programme, fulfilling the Romantic belief that music can express emotions inexpressible by words.

There is an echo here of the future Franz Lizst in John Field at this time; adored by the ladies, dodging his way in and out of romantic escapades. His biographer offers us this description that with the dominating Clementi out of the way he emerges into the light as:

“…an amusingly absent-minded and thoroughly hedonistic Bohemian; often feckless, but full of charm, and always surrounded by a circle of admirers who felt for him something very like hero worship …”

He dressed well and had a fashionable address, with his own carriage, attended all the parties, smoked Havana cigars, imbibed too much champagne and indulged in frivolities and gossip. He was overly generous with money, spending it as soon as he earned it.

Field’s enjoyment of the social life conflicted with his composing. Like many a genius, he could be erratic, lazy and even undisciplined at times and then overcome with the urgent compulsion to create. A friend later recalled that he would always need one glass of alcohol to get him started, then he would abstain but write music in a frenzy all night and throw the sheets all over the room, to be collected by others to put into order. He’d then collapse at three or four in the morning, only to be revived later with endless cups of coffee. After a bout of creation, he could be in a dishevelled and low mood when people would be forced to tiptoe around and not disturb him.

John Field

In 1810, Field married Adelaide Victoria Percheron, born in Pondicherry, India, and daughter of the war commissioner of the French fleet. She was one of his Moscow pupils and had been his mistress since 1807. The marriage was not a success, she was flightly and both of them tended to excesses, idleness and were hopeless with money, and Field really needed a more restrained woman to counterbalance his temperament. They had a son, Adrien, in 1819, before separating. Adrien also became a pianist but alcoholism cut short his career.

Field had another son, Leon, with a Mlle Charpentier, who was born in 1815. Leon later became an opera singer and teacher known as Leo Ivanovich Leonov. His child, Field’s grandson was Alexander Charpentier, who became an opera singer and his child in turn, Elizabeth Alexandrovna Charpentier, was a ballerina in the Imperial Troupe and danced internationally with the famous Anna Pavlova.

Field's son, tenor Leo Leonov (1813/1815 - 1872)

Field's great-granddaughter, Imperial Troupe ballerina Elizabeth Charpentier (1888-1950)

In 1812, Field had been able to escape from Napoleon’s Grand Armee as it approached Moscow by rushing back to St Petersburg, but in 1821 returned to live in Moscow.

As a composer, Field often struggled with his alcoholism and ill health (cancer) as well as his erratic tendencies, so his repertoire is not as great as it might have been. After a trip to England in 1832 with his son Leon, where he gave concerts, had a last reunion with his mother and also sought out medical attention, he returned to Russia via various European cities, but his declining health meant his performances were not particularly successful and this heralded his future descent into obscurity.

John Field died in Moscow in 1837 and is buried in the Vedensky Cemetery.

Find a Grave

Memorial to Field in Golden Lane, Dublin

Field’s style of piano music has been overshadowed by his more famous successors such as Liszt and Chopin. This is what one of his students, the “father of Russian classical music”, Mikhail Glinka had to say of him:

I clearly remember his energetic and at the same time sophisticated and precise performance. It seemed to me that he did not even press the keys, his fingers simply fell on them like raindrops, glided like pearls on velvet. Neither I nor any true admirer of musical art can agree with Liszt, who once said that Field played sluggishly. Not. Field’s play has always been bold, erratic and diverse; he never mutilated art like a charlatan, as very popular pianists often do.

Many musicians have recorded John Field, but in my opinion the best interpretation is that by his fellow countryman, John O’Conor, who somehow captures that unique Irish/Russian essence the best.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

All in a day's work ... "Doctor, you are murdering me!" (Excursions into the Petty Sessions Part 3)

Another “medical man” with the first name of Charles, lived in the same town of Maldon and appears in the Victorian Petty Sessions registers. He was born around 1829 in possibly Ireland, qualified as a doctor in Glasgow in 1851 and must have travelled to Australia some time after that.

Apart from being the Complainant in some instances of unpaid debts to himself, Charles Henry Hardy also presided over sessions in his capacity as a Justice of the Peace. These included a campaign against local parents who had failed to have their children vaccinated against smallpox. 

Here is an extract from the Petty Sessions of 24th October 1862 in which Charles H. Hardy is the Complainant against two Defendants, John Williams and James Clark, both accused of "Neglecting to bring his child to be vaccinated", and both "Dismissed with caution".

Vaccination lance kit, c. 1860s
Wellcome Collection

But long before this - and like Charles Webster a few years later - see Excursions into the Petty Sessions Blog 1 and Blog 2 - in 1858 Charles Hardy was forced to defend himself against a charge of manslaughter: in this case when a woman called Bridget Noonan died in childbirth, allegedly as a result of his neglect.

The baby also died, apparently from a fractured skull due to rough instrumental handling in the birthing process, which is truly horrific for us to imagine today. The case was reported in much detail in the local newspapers and it comes with a warning that it is a particularly graphic retelling of what women had to endure in the mid-19th Century Gold Rush era in what were often very primitive conditions.

Even if Hardy was a respected physician in the district - and with the excuse he was suffering from an illness at the time - it is still difficult to read the paragraphs in which Bridget was treated appallingly and virtually abandoned while Hardy and other doctors argued about their fees and she screamed out in pain that she was being murdered. 

Hardy said his fee was 5 guineas, or around £500 or A$1,000 today, and even more and up to £25 (about A$5,000) if he was expected to stay, according to evidence given by the husband and mother-in-law of Bridget Noonan. It is doubtful that any husband or partner of a woman giving birth in a tent on the diggings at Sandy Creek would have had this kind of money readily to hand.

Hardy never had to face trial as the Attorney-General quashed the case. One can think what one likes about this, but Bridget Noonan never stood a chance when left to the mercy of money-grubbing doctors, class distinction or prejudice against poor (Irish?) people, not to mention the accused doctor probably having friends in higher places ...

Dr. Hardy's Case. — We are authorised in stating that the Attorney-General has refused to file a bill against this gentleman in accordance with the verdict of the jury in the case of Bridget Noonan, and it will not therefore come on for trial. Official intimation of the fact reached Castlemaine yesterday, and the witnesses either have, or will have within a day or so, notice that they need not attend the next Circuit Court at Castlemaine where this trial would have taken place.Tarrangower Times.

Rather than reproducing the full gory details of the case here, please read the newspaper reports in TROVE:-

The Charge of Manslaughter against Dr. Hardy

Interestingly, this second report contains additional evidence given by family members, John Noonan and his mother, which is not included in The Argus story, about the money being demanded and the terrible condition of poor Bridget who in her agony screamed that Hardy was murdering her.

Acquittal as above

Life on the Goldfields was never dull for a medical man. There are numerous news items featuring Hardy, the years 1857-58 being particularly busy and the violent, rough and ready nature of the region and the people who lived in it at the time are much in evidence in these cases:-

Sarah Thompson stabs her husband at Mia Mia

Sarah Malloy(e) murdered by her husband, John. 

Evidence given on a suicide and domestic violence case.

Drowned in a hole at the back of the Eagle Hawk pub.

Another inquest featuring those dubious purgative powders e.g. Jalap, so beloved of doctors of that era.

All in a day's work ... another inquest in Melbourne, "The Little Bourke Street" Murder

Hardy's name continues to appear in a number of inquests and other newspaper articles.

In 1874, he put himself forward for election as Honorary Physician to the Lying-in Hospital in Melbourne and one can't help wondering what Bridget Noonan's family would have thought about that. Advertisement, 23 November 1874, The Age. It is not known if he got the job, however.


Ladies and Gentlemen, -

I beg to solicit your Vote and Interest for the appointment as Honorary Physican to the Lying-in-Hospital.
I trust that my long connection with the Rotunda Lying-in-Hospital, Dublin, under my brother, the late Dr. Hardy during his residence there, as Assistant Master, as well as my large and successful practice in this particular branch of the profession will gain me your confidence and support.
I remain, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant,
111 Collins-street east, Melbourne
At the Athenaeum, Collins Street, at noon.

And this describes his appearance before the Select Committee on Vaccination
Hamilton Spectator 11 February 1882

When Hardy died aged 54 in 1883, he had lived at 190 East Collins Street, Melbourne. Given his dismissive attitude towards one poor woman in distress who died as a result of his action/inaction, it may seem rather ironic that his name appears as honorary surgeon for various charities looking after the lower classes such as Committee for the Refuge for Fallen Women and the Benevolent Asylum. One wonders if he ever remembered how he had failed Bridget Noonan.

Region of East Collins Street where Charles Hardy lived,
c. 1890

Extract from the Victorian Police Gazette in June 1879, on appointment of Hardy as Public Vaccinator for Melbourne:-

Hardy's Will and Probate of his estate are available to read online through the Public Record Office of Victoria or Find My Past, and they give full details of all his belongings including his surgical instruments, furniture, carriages, horses, etc., also his debts, right down to the butcher's bill. His house was mortgaged and the results of his estate would have been modest. In his Will, he requested that there no "black crape" or "bonnet" be worn on his account. He even made the news again regarding it.

His wife was Henrietta Edwards, and he had three sons, Frederick, who died when a baby, Samuel John, and Charles Henry William Hardy, also a doctor, and who served with distinction at Gallipoli in World War I.

Son of Dr. Charles Henry Hardy,
Brigadier General Charles Henry William Hardy
copyright Australian War Memorial

Typical 19th Century Medical Chest such as used by Dr Hardy and others.
This one includes 15 purgative and emetic medicines!
Copyright Wellcome Collection

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Dreadful Occurrence (Excursions into the Petty Sessions Part 2)

Continuing with the findings on Charles Webster (click here for first part). In 1862 he was fined 2/6 for having an unregistered dog and then was the subject of several entries until 1866 in the Victoria Petty Sessions for Maldon.

The local district became a borough in 1863 and residents were subjected to increased rates or taxes as the next time Charles pops up is with a number of people appealing against these charges. Some were upheld, others dismissed or reduced. Charles’ brother T.B (Thomas Brown) Webster is also shown with his charge being “struck out” whereas Charles’ charge was reduced to £60.

The following year 1864, Charles was defending himself against someone with the surname of Reynolds who accused him of: “Assuming the title of medical practitioner”. The case was dismissed, but it suggests that the chemist/druggist Charles may have had ideas above his station and someone called him to account although the person officiating decided it was too trivial to bother about and it was dismissed.

Early in February 1866, an Alessandro Rainoni accused Charles Webster of Assault - in what manner is not revealed - but the case was also dismissed.

TROVE online carries many detailed reports of the “Dreadful Occurrence at Maldon” that took place on 6 August 1866, the basic facts being as follows:-

Charles Webster shot dead one Frank (or Francis) Silverwood, a local Miner, at the rear of his premises in High Street, Maldon.

Silverwood had gone to the rear of Charles premises around 10 pm, possibly to see either him or Charles’ partner, Dr. Craig, about a medical matter. Apparently Charles had attended Silverwood and his wife Alice previously when a child of theirs was ill.

Photo of Maldon in 1867, taken by Jonathon Moon, just a year after Frank Silverwood was shot
Maldon Museum and Archives Association

It seems that there had been earlier mystery disturbances at night behind Websters house when suspicious individuals (allegedly “Chinamen”) were thought to be after the fowls and Charles had primed a double-barrelled shotgun ready to scare them off should they return. 

Charles stated that he heard the prowler, went outside, but it was too dark to see. He called out “Who’s That?” and when he had no answer, fired off the gun. 
Alas! the chance shot proved a deadly aim. Lights were produced, and the dead body of Mr Frank Silverwood found; the charge had penetrated like a bullet into or just under the left temple … Mr Webster placed himself in the hands of the police until the inquest is known.”

The initial inquest into Frank Silverwood's death was held at the Beehive Hotel (R)
Photo J. Moon, c. 1867, State Library of Victoria

At the trial on 9 October, the Crown Prosecutor discussed the gravity of the charge, the differences between murder with intent and manslaughter, and also asked the obvious question why Charles didn’t use a safer method if he just wanted to alarm the intruder, i.e. load the gun with powder but not shot [or aim high perhaps?]. It was also puzzling as to why Silverwood did not answer when Charles called out.

The trial makes for fascinating reading but is too lengthy to reproduce here in full, so please follow TROVE and click here to read.

The judge decided that the case was manslaughter, and the Defence convinced the jury that it was an unfortunate accident, that Charles was filled with remorse. He was acquitted.

Interestingly, on 12 October 1866, Charles was again up in the Petty Sessions, this time as the Complainant against another Assault on him by Mrs. Craig - was she connected to the same Dr. Craig who was his partner at the time of the shooting of Frank Silverwood? Why was Mrs. Craig angry? What form did the “assault” take? Verbal or physical? Unfortunately the questions remain forever unanswered as the Petty Session Register does not show any resolution, simply the signature of the person who chaired the session.

As Frank Silverwood was well-known and respected in the community and left a widow and two daughters, Margaret, 12, and Mary Embley, 2, there could have been repercussions; perhaps some did not agree with the verdict or had suspicions as to what really happened. The original Letters of Administration granted to Alice Silverwood can be read via Ancestry but the trail on her and her daughters goes cold. ***

At this distance in time, one can only make assumptions about Charles, but together with the “dreadful occurrence”, the Petty Sessions records do provide some evidence that he may have had a short fuse, possibly was inclined to drink, as were many men in that area, or maybe he took some of his own weird drugs to relieve his state of mind. 

It appears Charles must have wanted to leave the district for some time as he had tried to offload his chemist and druggist business at least two years prior to the shooting, as per this advertisement from 13 May 1864 in the Businesses for Sale column of the Melbourne Argus:-

TO LEGALLY-QUALIFIED MEDICAL PRACTITIONERS - WANTED - Immediately, a legally-qualified Medical Man to take a practice which has been carried on successfully for the last six years by the advertiser, who is compelled to relinquish the same.
For further particulars, apply to -


Another image from c. 1867 of High Street where Charles Webster had his Chemist and Druggist business
Photo J. Moon, State Library of Victoria.

The reality is, not being a qualified doctor one can attribute more than a degree of quackery to Charles and his name was in the newspapers again at the end of the year in connection with a case with the lurid title of “Death of a Lunatic at the Gaol”. Read the full report on TROVE here.

Hannah Williams, 32, seems to have suffered some sort of hysterical episodes for no apparent reason which involved fights with a neighbour, leaving her husband and dumping her clothes in the street. 

Her husband took her to Charles who kept giving her some unnamed pills that knocked her out, then another doctor was called who “ordered her hair to be cut and mustard plasters applied to her legs”.  Hannah “before her excitement” complained about a man trying to take advantage of her.

Given Charles Webster’s recent history, this paragraph is interesting: 
Charles Webster, practising as a medical man at Maldon, but not legally qualified, visited the deceased at the request of Mr. Williams. He found her in a state of great excitement, which arose in his opinion from functional disease [constipation?]. He gave her one drop of Croton oil [a highly toxic purgative] which did not act; on Sunday morning she was still more excited and he gave her some saline purgative, consisting of tartrate of soda, which operated [worked].
This was followed by more visits by other doctors and poor Hannah wound up in a strait jacket in Castlemaine Gaol, hardly the place for someone suffering “acute mania”. It was intended she be removed to the Yarra Bend Asylum but she died before this could be done. A Dr. McGrath opened her up and “found great congestion of the brain and its membranes; there was no organic disease of the brain itself.” 

Castlemaine Gaol c. 1861 where poor Hannah Williams died
State Library of Victoria

The newspaper discussed the problems of keeping “lunatics” in gaol when they should rightly be in the asylum, but one can’t help wondering if the hair-cutting, mustard plasters and sedative/purgative treatment by Charles Webster and other dodgy medical men hastened her demise. 

So where did Charles go? 

A surprising entry in the 1871 UK Census shows a Charles Webster visiting the farm Tregaminion Wollas which is right on the tip of Cornwall at Landewednack. He gives his occupation as “Surgeon, University of Glasgow”. His age and birth place of Cheney Sutton, Leicestershire, fits exactly with our Charles Webster.

What was he doing there? Did he return to Britain and properly complete his medical studies at Glasgow, or was he continuing to give the illusion of being a doctor in far-flung places where his dubious past in Maldon would be unknown? He is not listed in the official Calendar of British Physicians and Surgeons, 1830-1923.

A search of British Newspapers finds a C. Webster, Surgeon, mentioned a few times in inquests and other cases held at Bewdley, Worcestershire, during the 1870s and as there is no close matching individual to be found in the relevant records, there is a chance it could be our Charles but the evidence is circumstantial.

From public trees available on Ancestry, it is seen that Charles came from a very large family. The brother mentioned in the murder/manslaughter of Silverwood, Thomas Brown Webster was a mine manager and well-established in the Maldon community. He is buried in the Maldon Cemetery and is the ancestor of many still living in the district. (Charles does not appear to have been married.)

One Webster brother ended his days in Pennsylvania and Charles may well have travelled on to the USA or some other corner of the world, but researching him any further is beyond the scope of this tale and so he slips through the cracks of history. 

*** Francis Silverwood was born in Yorkshire in 1827. He married Alice Embley in 1852 in Clitherhoe, Lancashire, and sailed to South Australia in 1855 on the Europa. Francis was a Blacksmith by trade and as this was the height of the Gold Rush he must have decided to leave Adelaide and seek his fortune in the Victorian Goldfields. The estate documents indicate that he had less than five hundred pounds in assets. Anyone reading this who knows what happened to Alice and her daughters, please do get in touch.