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Emma Maria Doyle

Married to John Smith in 1819

Emma Maria Doyle was the first of your Australian grandmas to be born in Australia. Her mother Sophia was living with her husband and children on her property in Seven Hills when the Vinegar Hills Riots occurred [1]. Sophia was close to full time and upset with the rioters stealing their gun on the night of 4th March 1804. Emma was born on the 18th April six weeks later. There are various reports of where Emma was born. Emma’s mother owned a house in the Rocks and Emma’s birth was registered at Windsor. There is a surviving letter written to Dublin by Emma’s father Andrew from Seven Hills referring to Sophia being close to time. I think Emma most likely was born at Seven Hills. Emma was baptised at St Philip’s in Sydney on the 21st October 1804.

Today the surviving land of Emma’s first home is called the Sophia Isabella Doyle Reserve in the suburb of Baulkham Hills [2]. Emma lived here until 1809, next door to the Smith family on Torry Burn farm. When she was 5 years old her mother bought a property at Portland and the family built a new home Ulitedinburra Lodge at Portland.

The early Baulkham Hills families were close friends, and their children grew up together and there were a number of marriages between these families. One of these was Emma to John Smith. Following the calling of the banns Emma married John Smith of Torry Burn in St Matthew’s Windsor on the 8th November 1819. Her brother Cyrus and his wife Elizabeth were witnesses, as was long time friend Joseph Harpur. Elizabeth Doyle’s family, the McDougalls, had come to Australia from Scotland in 1794 with the Smiths and Bowmans.

The young couple settled at Lower Portland not far from Emma’s parents. Six children were born in these eleven years Emma Maria in 1820, John in 1822, Andrew 1824, Robert Alexander 1826, William Frederick in 1828, and Cyrus Edmund in 1830. Most of the older children were baptised at St. John’s, Parramatta. The 1828 census records John as a farmer at Lower Portland Head with four hundred and seventy acres, sixty acres cleared and sixty acres under cultivation they had a horse, forty four cattle, five labourers and one servant.

The local aborigines were not happy about the new settlers, and some of their neighbours were attacked. John had heard of new land opening up on the Hunter River and with his friends applied for grants [3].

The family moved to the new grant west of Singleton about 1831 and called it Birnam Wood in remembrance of their Scottish origins. More children followed Walter in 1833, Leslie in 1835 then a little girl Edith was born in 1838 but did not survive. Emma was having problems having babies and this was to be compounded by dubious practices by an incompetent doctor who bled her severely just before the birth of her tenth child on the 12th February 1842. The little girl did not survive and it left Emma in poor health for a long time. [4]

In 1845 the eldest child, Emma Maria, married Charles Dight the son of Singleton family and went to live in Melbourne. The eleventh child, a little girl named Clara Louise, born in 1849 was dearly loved, and her illness and death is recorded in John Smith’s diary. These three little girls were baptised in the Presbyterian Church. The minister Rev White often stayed at Birnam Wood.

The seven sons were lively: all rode fast horses and undertook various responsibilities on the two properties though not always to their father’s satisfaction. John thought the boys were too distracted by the district social life, such as the local races and liked to visit their young cousins too much.

The house was on the main road from the Hills District in Sydney where the grandparents lived and there was a continual stream of visitors many of whom stayed a night, and some longer than the family would have liked. Aunts and uncles lived on properties on the Hunter River. Emma’s brother Edmund had married John’s sister Frances six months before John and Emma married, and lived at Jerry’s Plains. Emma and John had also been witnesses at her sister Sophia’s wedding to Andrew McDougall who lived nearby at Kelso Park. John and his brothers-in-law had acquired second properties on the New England Tablelands. John called his property Torryburn at Bundarra near Armidale.

Emma also enjoyed the local social life and often visited around the district taking one of the boys for company and safety. When the new bishop of Newcastle, Bishop Tyrell came to Jerry’s Plains for confirmation Emma took two of the younger boys to be confirmed. The family went to both the Church of England and Presbyterian services when the minister visited the district and John like his father-in-law wasn’t averse to commenting if the sermon wasn’t to his liking. Services were held at the nearby Cock Fighters Inn or the house if the road was impassable because of bad weather.

House work wasn’t a great problem as there was usually a housekeeper — either Mrs. Wiseman from Wiseman’s Ferry, or a Scottish maid obtained by Mrs. Caroline Chisholm who was a close friend of John’s and who stayed at Birnam Wood when she was taking her girls to their place of employment. Besides the sons there was indentured staff on the property and they ran a small business of making boots for the nearby town of Singleton.

The 1840’s were a hard time for Emma and John. The last three difficult pregnancies put a strain on their marriage, Emma wasn’t keen to be pregnant again and looked for excuses to visit her married daughter Emma Dight in Melbourne and the grandchildren.

John was worried that the bank was going to foreclose on his New England property which he’d used for collateral for a loan to his brother-in-law. There was also a very bad drought and John would drown his sorrows in too much of his new wine. John usually referred to his wife as Mrs. S, or when he was cross my old woman, and my dear Emma when tragedy happened such as the news of their 24 year old son Robert’s death at sea returning from the California Gold Diggings. Clara died in 1850 and Emma and John took it very hard. John wrote and oh Heavenly Father forgive me if sometimes think thy decrees severe and my poor wife is distracted.

In 1851 gold was discovered west of the Blue Mountains, Emma’s sons set off to try their luck on the diggings. At first they were content to try their Uncle Robert Smith’s property, and then they went south to try the Ballarat diggings.

Emma spent five months away in Melbourne when her daughter Emma had her fourth child Carol in 1852. Young Emma’s husband Charles caught influenza which was raging in Melbourne and died in October 1852. Grandma Emma was very busy with the young baby, the grieving mother, and packing up the household to bring young Emma back to Sydney with the four young children. Her husband wasn’t pleased with the intolerable neglect he received. Everyone was grief-stricken when the young widow committed suicide [5] in Sydney on her way to her parent’s home. Emma took the children to Richmond to their Dight grandparents before returning home where she was ill for weeks.

John died in 1854 Emma survived him another fourteen years and continued to manage Birnam Wood and visit Victoria regularly where her sons had settled. Not long before her death she bought a property Ellerslie at Wangaratta which her will refers to as her home. Emma died at Birnam Wood and, from the wording of the will, had her properties mortgaged to her old friend Walter Pierce Bowman. This has caused some speculation in the family as to their relationship but Walter Pierce Bowman was executor for her husband John’s will, and a trusted friend of both. The wild young sons eventually settled down and married and there were 31 grand children.


[1] A letter Andrew Doyle wrote to Dublin referring to the riots survives.
[2] Sophia Isabella Doyle’s property has been over the years described as being in Toongabbie, Seven Hills, Parramatta and today Baulkham Hills.
[3] Letter of application has survived — source Debbie Howse
[4] John’s indignant letter to the doctor when he tried to bill for the confinement has survived in the family.
[5] John Smith wrote in his diary 18th Feb 1853 Heard the melancholy intelligence of the death of my much loved Daughter Mrs Dight poor dear Girl Her end was primatisn and unhappy.

Margaret Hardwick, 2010

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