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Matilda Eleanor King

Married to Samuel Bate

What was a sixteen year old girl, apparently without parents, not a convict, doing in Hobart Town alone in 1806 a wild rough-and-tumble place inhabited by soldiers, convicts, seamen, whalers and the remnants of the aboriginal population? Women were rare and usually convicts. Rum was the main drink—even the parson drank it, and certainly the magistrate did. Samuel’s first wife Sarah had taken one look at Hobart Town and said I am going back to London and taking Susan with me and she and the small baby did just that. [1]

By 1808 Matilda was co-habiting with Samuel Bate the magistrate, and on the 23rd October 1809 their daughter Sarah was born. On the 19th September 1810 Bobbie Knopwood, the parson and personal friend of Sam’s, married the couple. We could wonder whether or not Sam had received word from London that his first wife had died. Sam had a quarrelsome nature and, before he met Matilda, had been in and out of hot water because of it. Shortly after Matilda married Sam, the wife of Captain John Murray the Commandant of Van Diemen’s Land had an affair with Lieutenant Wright, and left her husband and went to live with the newly married couple. Captain Murray retaliated by stopping Sam’s salary and taking his official residence away. In 1810 Sam had bought two acres of land in Liverpool Street in the heart of Hobart, and he now erected a small wooden house on it where he and the family lived. A son Richard Ellison was born on 7th June 1811. The situation for the couple improved after Governor Macquarie visited Hobart and Sam was released from close arrest and one of his convict servants was restored. Life quietened down quite a bit and the only record we have in the next three years is the house lost its roof in a violent storm. A second son, John Murray, was born on 9th April 1814. Sam was recalled to England in 1814, and his father died in 1814 leaving him £4,000. The way of life in the early colony was slow, and it took another year before their business affairs were settled enough for them to return to London. The 100-acre farm on the Derwent was sold, debts settled and the Liverpool Street house leased to Police Magistrate A. W. H. Humphreys with instructions of how to care for their precious garden and orchard. By now Matilda was pregnant again and a third son Henry Jefferson was born when they were crossing the equator on 16th March 1816. He was named after the ship. Henry Jefferson was baptised February 1817 at St Mary’s Church, Newington, South London. In 1817 the family moved to Bayswater in London and were living there when Elizabeth the youngest child was born in 1822. Sam eventually received another appointment from the British Government as Surveyor of Distilleries with a good salary and was planning his return to the colony. He boarded the Royal Charlotte with Matilda and the five children. Susan, Sam’s daughter from his first marriage was once more back with her father, and part of the emigrating party. Susan had inherited £1,000 in her grandfather’s will. Samuel Bate Senior had stipulated the interest was to be used to keep and educate her and the sum to go to her when she turned 21.

Sam quarrelled with the ship’s Captain Corbyn, who in turned took the argument out on the family, reluctantly finding them bedding, and even at one time denying Matilda drinking water. All of this resulted in a court case once the ship reached Sydney. In spite of a good salary, Sam was in financial difficulties again, and remained so for the rest of his life.

The family rented a house at 46 Pitt Street, Sydney (in the area of Hunter Street) where they lived for six years. From a young age Sam took all three boys Richard, John and Henry to the office where they were expected to do clerical duties. Eventually Richard’s unpaid position was recognised and he took over his father’s position when Sam’s health and eyesight deteriorated, and the family relied heavily on Richard for support for the rest of Richard’s life. Sixteen year old Sarah married Lieutenant Thomas Bainrigge 10th October 1826 with Government Permission and they went to live in the new settlement of Moreton Bay where their first two children were born.

These years saw the Bate family planting another orchard on a rented farm in South Pitt Street that they called The Garden. They were growing mulberry trees to feed silkworms in a growing silk industry. The care of the silkworms must have fallen to Matilda, because in 1827 she wrote to the Governor of New South Wales requesting permission to pick mulberry leaves in the Government Garden [2] and a man for 3 months to assist her. Governor Darling doesn’t appear to have been happy with Matilda’s request, as it was not granted because, he said, there were plenty of other mulberry trees for her to pick leaves from, and he would send one of his men over to her sometimes with leaves.

In 1828 the family were forced to leave 46 Pitt Street as their creditors had foreclosed on them and sold the furniture they had brought from England with them for a quarter of it’s value to cover Sam’s debts. The family moved into a weatherboard house on the South Pitt Street Farm. Sam was very lucky to escape debtor’s prison and was having his usual arguments with people winning some, losing other fights and in and out of debt. But he had another problem going on — he was losing his eyesight, and having to rely on his sons to support him. Never-the-less there was the grand dream with a farm planned on the North Shore and a grand two story house at Strawberry Hills. All of Matilda’s young adults liked to sail and spent much of the summer months sailing on Sydney Harbour and consequently learnt where there was vacant land. In the first instance the Bate family in 1830 squatted on the Echo Point Farm and had a wooden shack there and offered rent as well as making a number of applications for the land before it was granted to Matilda and Sam. A two storied wooden house was built at Echo Point, Belvoir House at Strawberry Hills was also completed in 1834 and stood on an acre of ground Richard had bought for 40 pounds, as well as 30 acres at Cooke’s River, and land in Crown Street Surry Hills. At first all the family except Susan and Sarah who were married moved into Belvoir House. Sam was no longer employed at the distillery, Richard having taken his place. John couldn’t get paid work there but young Henry worked as a clerk though he was mostly not paid.

It was a lovely house for Matilda to be mistress of, it was a big square house built of brick and stone with a shingle roof fronting on to Elizabeth Street and contained a beautiful garden surrounded by high stone walls to keep the surrounding sand hills out. On three sides it had harbour views and to the west a magnificent landscape view. It had eighteen rooms and outbuildings and Matilda had three assigned servants to help her run the household.

Richard and John returned to Hobart in 1835 and successfully put in a claim for the Bate house and land in Hobart which was granted in 11 lots, some in the name of Sam the rest in the names of Matilda, Richard, John and Henry. Richard returned to Sydney but John found work in Hobart and stayed on for another couple of years. Henry was now 17 years old and started farming at Dapto in 1836. He married Elizabeth Kendall Mossop aged 16 years—the minister commented on how young the couple were. Elizabeth (Betsy) Matilda’s youngest daughter married Edward Agnew on 7th June 1836 and the young couple joined Henry and Elizabeth on the farm at Dapto, eventually acquiring their own farm at Cooke’s River. In 1839 Richard lost his job at the Distillery leaving the family without an income, and unsuccessful moves were made to sell Belvoir House and a mortgage was raised to support the family. Richard returned to Hobart and married fifteen year old Caroline Lovett who then became the part-owner and mistress of Belvoir House. Matilda seems to have taken all this in her stride, seemingly her only wish being to have her family around her. She worried about Sarah and her children’s health, as Thomas Bainbrigge had been transferred to India in 1831 with the 57th Regiment, and in the thirteen years they were in India five of Sarah’s children died, and her husband died on the journey back to England. Sarah in her turn worried about her aging parents and if she would see them again, and tried hard to keep contact with them all including her half sister Susan Clark. Sarah and the remaining children eventually returned to New South Wales and for a while lived with Henry and Elizabeth. Elizabeth named the baby born at this time Elizabeth Honor Bainbrigge Bate to commemorate the happy event. [3]

John had returned from Hobart to live at Echo Point and married Julia Philips in 1839, but continued to have trouble in getting a job to support his rapidly growing family. The 1841 census shows six persons living at Echo Point Farm — a girl to help in the house and with the baby and two assigned men as gardeners as well as the young couple. Matilda and Sam were ageing and not well and completely financially dependent on their sons who were all having problems with the 1840s depression so the decision was made to sell Belvoir House. John moved his growing family to Chippendale as it was more accessible than Echo Point Farm which could only be reached by boat. Sam died aged 73 in 1849 and Richard died the following month, leaving John and Henry to take care of Matilda. Caroline Richard’s wife who was only twenty five decided to return to Hobart and consequently remarried and had a family in Tasmania that she and Richard had so longed for. Caroline stayed close to the Bate family for the rest of her life and there are surviving letters that tell of the Bate children going to visit their cousins in Hobart. The Echo Point Farm had become more accessible with a riding track to Willoughby, so the large young family of John’s returned to the farm to the delight of the children.

Matilda lived another twenty years after Sam’s death, mostly with Henry and his wife Elizabeth who spoke highly in letters of her mother-in-law and her love of the grand children. All Matilda’s children owned businesses, farms and land, and struggled between a very lavish life style and bankruptcies. Henry went bankrupt three times as well as losing everything in a house fire, and Elizabeth his wife wondered if she would have the heart to start again after the third fire in 1866. Matilda died on 25th May 1869 at Ferndale, Merimbula, at Henry and Elizabeth’s home aged 81 years and is buried at St Luke’s churchyard Dapto. Matilda had 42 grandchildren. Sadly, ten of them had died during Matilda’s lifetime.


[1] There are several stories about Sarah Bate and some can be found in Frank Bate Junior’s book Sam Bate — Singular Character
[2] Page 85 ‘Sam Bate — Singular Character’
[3]Page 178 ‘Sam Bate — Singular Character’

Margaret Hardwick, 2009

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