When Pat asked me if I would do a talk about a colourful character I found in my family tree, my mind went off into to quite a whirl —
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Colourful characters abound in Robert’s and my family tree. I had found
Little Jack Horner who put in his thumb and pulled out a plum out on a twig on Robert’s tree, also a 16th century hippy Elnathan Chauncy that lived in the swamp near the University in Boston and every now and then appeared out of the swamp and said
you didn’t pay my father enough money — give me some money. Elnathan was the son of the second President of Harvard University Charles Chauncy. And then there was very incompetent bush ranger Edward Fletcher that was shot dead the day he joined the gang.
But I have decided that I will tell you about my great great grandfather Samuel Bate. My family had gone to live with my adored eccentric Australian grandmother after her second husband Owen Conduit (a retired conductor of the Tivoli orchestra) died in 1936. My mother, her only surviving child, was the child of Nellie’s first marriage to a miner who died of heavy metal poisoning. It was stormy living with Grandma because it was like having 3 parents and she was bossier than the other two, and I was a questioning child. Grandma was born on the 26th January 1872 in Riley Street Surry Hills, the only child of the marriage. Both my grandmother’s parents had families from their first partners — consequently Grandma had 12 living half brothers and sisters.
After Grandma’s death in 1966 I thought I would like to have her birth certificate. Grandma being an intensely private person I would never have dared to ask in her life time — you didn’t ask Grandma questions, you were told things when she thought it was suitable for you to know. I sent for the birth certificate and discovered that her father was John Murray Bate and born in Hobart in 1814. Nobody had ever mentioned this though there had always been lots of talk about early Australian history especially around Bathurst. I asked my mother why it hadn’t been mentioned and got the comment
don’t ask too many questions you might find out something you don’t want to know. Something you don’t want to know — I wanted to know that all right! There was a bit of a discussion with my brothers and sisters but no action as I had five children of my own to bring up. Family tree took time and money neither of which I had.
In 1972 Robert was asked to do a locum in Sorrell Parish, Tasmania for a month. I was quite encouraging about this opportunity to visit Tasmania. Family history wasn’t that easy in 1972, and I was prepared to take any advantage that came my way, so I quickly applied in Hobart for John Bate’s birth certificate. It was going to take all the month to arrive — the other complication was we were on the west side of the Derwent River and a week after we arrived a ship collapsed the only bridge in to Hobart and getting to town became quite an adventure. During our last week in Tasmania I received the certificate, which was a copy of a baptism certificate, and learnt John’s parents were Samuel and Matilda Bate and that John was baptised by Rev Bobbie Knopwood and he was their third child and Samuel was a magistrate. That’s all pretty tame, and I felt there was more to the story. We manged to get across the river to Hobart where I went off to the history section of the city library and they printed me out a little official story which basically said Sam wasn’t very good at his job.
The story is Sam had arrived in Hobart in 1806 with a young wife Sarah, whom he had recently married in London, and a baby Susan. Lieutenant Samuel Bate after 8 years active service in the army at age 25 had already been court-martialled and dismissed from the British Army in India in 1801, probably for running up too many debts and not paying his bills, so he was quite happy to accept a post as Deputy Judge Advocate to the Colony of Port Phillip in 1802 though he had no legal training. What’s more they started paying in 1802. Sam arrived in Sydney in 1806 to discover the settlement of Port Phillip wasn’t going ahead and he was to proceed to Hobart as magistrate. I might add he had left all the paper work back in London so this was to add to the confusion. Sarah took one look at the collection of mud huts and low life in Hobart and declared she wasn’t staying and was going back to London and got on the first boat that came along, which didn’t go to London it went off to the Antarctic whaling. When it returned to Hobart Sarah and baby switched to another boat and sailed off to London, and from that point I have never been able to find what became of Sarah. Sam had in the mean time found another young lady 16 year old Matilda King living in Hobart with no known kith and kin. A daughter Sarah was born to the couple in 1809 and they were duly married in 1810 by Bobbie Knopwood a drinking mate of Sam’s. As a word of explanation, Port Jackson and Hobart were considered the end of the world and the early governors had the authority to say you were free to marry regardless of any earlier marriages. A good example of this is on the first settlement at Norfolk Island Governor Philip declared if any marine cared to pick a wife from the convict women sent to Norfolk Island, the surgeon could marry them and the marine would be given a land grant. When Rev Johnson first visited Norfolk he blessed 60 of these unions. Back to Sam who had fallen out with the acting governor Lieutenant Lord over a flogging of a woman convict without the surgeon being present. The acting governor had recently married an ex-convict and the offending lady had used some rather colourful language describing the new wife, so a flogging was ordered, and with fife and drum she was dragged behind a wagon up the main street of Hobart while being flogged. Sam was not popular with the acting governor for not siding with his instructions, and after many arguments and counter arguments, Sam’s pay was stopped and he was put under house arrest and deprived of a government supplied house, with the governor declaring Sam liked mixing with the low life and drank too much rum.
At this point of my research we were due back in Kingscliff and research went on the back burner, and I was then to glean little bits about Sam over the years. I found an early map of Sydney 1825 and he had a farm in Pitt Street which he leased after his return from a sojourn of 10 years in London fighting for back pay and restitution. Interestingly when Sam returned to Australia he brought Susan his eldest daughter with him. Sam had sold his large property in Van Diemen’s Land to finance the return trip to London and leased his 2 acre property in Hobart Town. Sam’s father in London had died while Sam was in Hobart and left a good fortune to his family. His father was supposed to be a gentleman of means living on his income in Wych Street which today is the Strand, but I found in researching Sam’s father and his grandfather were peruke makers. You know those nice big white wigs beloved of Georgian Ladies and Lords, and when you are a good hairdresser to the rich and famous and you can afford to live next door to Joseph Banks and ask favours of important clients, patronage was alive and well.
Sam did not get his back pay nor appointment to Hobart back, though he was involved in the Bigge’s report to parliament on the colony and the state of government in the colony, and was paid while he was doing that, but he did get another appointment which I found very amusing — in 1825 they sent him back to Sydney in charge of surveying distilleries. Sam was determined to set up farming in Australia so he brought back lots of trees, cuttings and seeds and a grand scheme to grow mulberry trees and set up a silk industry in Sydney. There were problems with the trees being dug up and stolen at the Pitt Street farm, and his sons who loved sailing on the Harbour had found the Spit and built a hut, squatting on weekends, so Sam moved his precious trees and plants to the boys squat and applied for a lease which in time and arguments he was granted acreage which stretched from Echo Point to what today is Roseville Station. This farm was known as the Echo Point Farm, and in time became the home of his son John who was my great grandfather. When John, like his father, got into financial trouble, his brother-in-law, John Baptiste acquired the property. In the meantime Sam had applied for land closer to the city centre and eventually was granted 17 acres in the sand hills of Strawberry Hill where he built a fine two storied walled house Belvoir. Sam did promote the silk industry and growing mulberry trees, but it was his wife Matilda who was left to do the work of attending to the trees and silk worms. Matilda was happy running the big house at Strawberry Hill. Her eldest daughter Sarah married Lieutenant Thomas Bainbrigge and went to live in Moreton Bay with the garrison and then to India. The other five children lived in Sydney when they were first married, usually living at first in the big house and gradually moving further afield as they established themselves. Matilda liked having the family around her. Sam continued not to be very good at his job. Sam wasn’t very good at any of the jobs he did, so there were always debts and bankruptcies, arguments, court cases and moving on and up in a grand manner. Charles Wentworth defended Sam in one court case and lost, so Sam refused to pay him — he only paid if he won. Sam continued to have his agriculture interests and owned what was known as the plantation at Randwick. His son John wrote a pamphlet on silk cultivation, but nothing came of their efforts. Belvoir house was sold to the Bank of New South Wales for a manager’s residence and to pay bills and Sam, who had gone blind, went to live with his son Richard at Dapto, and is buried at Dapto. The Widow Eliza Arthur married John in 1870. Before the marriage Eliza had a prenuptial agreement drawn up that the grazing property near Bathurst left by her first husband could not be sold by John to pay his bills and was for the children of her first marriage to Charles Arthur. John died 7 years later leaving Eliza to bring up nine of the children on the farm with the help of her eldest stepson.
Today all that remains of Belvoir House is the Belvoir Theatre at Surry Hills which built on the site. There is a very pretty Park at Echo Point under the Roseville Bridge and a brass memorial to the family. The Roseville house had become a home for Inebriates and was burnt down in a bush fire in 1912. There is a near by creek running off the Spit called Bate Creek, and when I fly into Mascot I can see Bate Bay at Cronulla. The legal agreement of my great grandparents was to cause a great rift in my family as the eldest descendant Bate son tried to claim the grazing property as his in 1890 and, after a court case, the property did go to the eldest surviving child of Eliza’s first marriage to Charles Arthur. Grandma was the meat in the sandwich belonging to and loving both families.
My cousin Frank Bate in 1986 gathered together much of our family stories and bits and pieces and published a book in 1987 "Samuel Bate — Singular Character". Frank used the 1825 map I had found for a front piece for his book.
In 1998 a very distant relative a fourth cousin removed Colonel George Gillberry wrote to me from the UK. He was anxious his research into the family should not be lost, so he asked me to take over the family tree — and a very strange little tree it is! So for better or worse I now accept all information on Samuel Bate’s descendants that comes my way and enter it on my computer. George is free to concentrate on his far more respectable Mossop family. There are 710 descendants covering ten generations. On the Bate Family Tree we range from pensioners to the heir to the 19th Duke of Derby.
Secrets always secrets. Last year I was asked do a Family Tree from my parents. I hadn’t allowed for the fact of there are ten divorces and remarriages and step-children. Next year I have been asked to produce a sanitized descent version for the family picnic. All exes who have not procreated are to be cut out and some people want to adopt their step children so they will show up in the tree. My computer programme won’t like that, so it will have to be cut and sticky tape.