Susanna Pymble
(1806—1899)

Married to John Hardman Lister 1826





I grew up with many stories about this grandma and her adventures. Susanna was mentioned in primary school Australian history books along with her son John along with Edward Hargraves and the discovery of gold. Frank Clune a popular author in the 1950s wrote a book about her and the family Golden Goliath.

Yet, as I was to discover when I started studying family history in depth, Susanna’s story was even more romantic and more tragic. Susanna the second daughter of Philip and Susannah Pymble [1] was born in the tiny village of Hoarwithy on the border of English Wales where her father was the local survey and tithe agent. Philip’s father had been a local farm labourer with a large family and strong family ties to the village where his parents were born and married. Susannah White from nearby Dewchurch had married Philip Pymble in 1803 and their first daughter Mary had been born in 1804. Their second child, Susanna was taken to the chapel of St. Dubricious at Hentland to be baptised on the 29th April 1806. The story of the rest of Susanna’s growing up has been lost, other than she had two more siblings — a brother Thomas born in 1810 and a sister Ann born in 1813. Susanna learnt to read and write, draw [2] and have the accomplishments of a young lady of her time.

How young Susanna Pymble met John Lister we don’t know. We do know John was a midshipman by 1819 and there is a story he had travelled to the colony of NSW at a young age. Susanna aged 21 and John 23 married in London at St Mary Whitechapel on 30th June 1827, a church and area much used by seaman when they were in London and where some of Susanna’s family had moved to — her uncle Robert was living there when he married. Both the Pymble and Lister families were represented as witnesses at the wedding. Susanna and John’s wedding certificate has survived and is now in Hobart archives. By 1828 when Susanna was heavily pregnant with John her eldest son, husband John was signed on as mate for a long voyage, so Susanna returned to Llanfrother for the birth of John. He was baptised at the local church. By 1830 (husband) John was a master mariner and captain of the convict brig Wave. This time there was no leaving the family behind and Susanna, pregnant with her second child, and young John, sailed with Captain Lister for Australia. (There is no evidence for the presence of Edward Hargraves on the ship). [3] The new baby was born at sea off the coast of Australia. She was named Sarah Susanna and her birth was registered 15th July 1830 in Hobart. While in Hobart John applied for, and received, a grant of 1,000 acres on the northern point of South Bruny Island. On 7th August 1830 [4] they arrived in Sydney and on 23rd August 1830 Sarah was baptised at St Philip’s Sydney. There was no great delay before the young mother and her two children were on their way back to Hobart before returning to England. In London Sarah was baptised again at St Mary Whitecapel. Susanna spent most of the first ten years of her marriage at sea travelling round the world. She went on four voyages with her husband before settling in Sydney at the end of the fifth voyage.

St Mary’s, Whitechapel 1831.

It is believed Susanna stayed in Hoarwithy for the birth of Elizabeth in 1832. Elizabeth believed to have been baptised in the chapel of St Dubricious, like her mother and brother before her, while John sailed again in the Wave to Hobart. On the next voyage on the Wave on the return journey a second son Henry was born at sea near the Westward Islands on 9th June 1836. Henry was baptised at St Mary’s Whitechapel, Stepney on 10th July 1836.

On 5th April 1838 Captain John Lister, Susanna and Henry boarded the Fortune at 6 o’clock in the evening. A looped chain attached to a pulley on the main mast draped with the union jack was put over the side for Susanna and once safely wrapped in the flag she was hoisted aboard. On June 9th 1838 Henry’s second birthday and on his third voyage across the equator we are able to read he was a sweet little fellow and amused the fellow passengers with his funny little ways — he tried to mimic his father, and when upon deck he went his mama and holds his arm out for her to take that she may walk with him like a man. Sadly, twelve days later, on 23rd June 1838, Henry was dead with fever. He was buried at sea on the 30th June 1838, Susanna and John’s eleventh wedding anniversary. Ironically the Wave, the ship Henry was born on, was anchored in Hobart when the Listers arrived there.

What was said between wife and husband we will never know, but after the completion of this voyage, Susanna vowed never to undertake another long journey by sea. In the journal of that last fatal journey, we do learn that Susanna suffered at times from sea sickness, and in rough weather was afraid for her life. Susanna had the highest expectation of how the mess should be run and at least one passenger found her opinionated and bossy. Steerage passengers ate nearly as well as the captain’s table which was the exception rather than the rule. Susanna did enjoy the social chit-chat on deck when all was fine and the ladies could sit and sew or just talk and read the latest novels by Scott or Dickens. The Listers had reached a point in time when they decided to give up life at sea.

The three eldest children who had been left in England, presumably for their education, eventually arrived in Australia certainly by 1844, when the eldest boy John accompanied his father on his last voyage to Moreton Bay.

Susanna’s husband had at least two contracts as captain to bring rebellious soldiers who had been court martialled after the Indian Mutiny to Van Diemen’s Land to serve out their term as convicts, on the ships Merope and Calcutta.

In September 1838 Susan and John’s took their first house in Macquarie Place, Sydney. This is where Annie Caroline was born on 9th December 1838. She was baptised at St Philip’s on 5th January 1939. John set up a business as a shipping agent, then they moved to the Domain Terrace where they had a very pleasant town house which was only demolished in the 1970s to make way for the extensions of New South Wales Parliament house. Two more sons were born in these years — Thomas Sydney in 1840, and Frederick Joseph on 8th September 1842. Both were baptised at St Philips. In January 1843 during the financial depression that was raging in New South Wales, John was declared bankrupt. He lost all his possessions including the Domain Terrace house and its possessions even the children’s clothing as well as his acreage at Newtown (Reiby St) and his whaling property at Sussex Street. By June 1842 John had managed to settle his debts and was planning to go back to sea. On 8th February 1844 [5] captaining the Perseverance he set sail for Brisbane with young John as cabin boy. The ship ran into a cyclone off North Stradbroke Island at the entrance to Moreton Bay and was wrecked without loss of life while trying to find a safe harbour. John was devastated and humiliated by the government offer for him to manage a lighthouse, so he, Susanna and the family gathered up their remaining goods in January 1845 and made their way over the Blue Mountains to start a new life managing a coaching inn at the Fish River near Mutton Falls. They were greeted by bushrangers who stole every last thing they possessed, bundling it up into the family bed sheets. John tried valiantly to defend his family with a carving knife — the only thing the bushrangers didn’t take.

The family became friendly with their neighbours, including the Toms, and colleagues and with hard work on Susanna’s part started to make a new life for them. James Arthur was the owner of the Carrier’s Arms in William Street, Bathurst and was constantly expanding his business. James had bought the half way house Robin Hood and Little John Inn in 1842. It stood at the summit of the notorious Rock Hills, 20 kilometres west of Bathurst and in March 1846 he replaced the former drunken manager with John Lister. Inquests were considered entertainment in these parts. Friday the 12th August 1850 John went to Bathurst on business in the gig the next day when he hadn’t returned home a search party found him dead on the side of the road apparently his horse had bolted and thrown him, knocking him unconscious. He died of hypothermia overnight. The unproven suspicion of the family was that the rough element who preyed on the locals had caught up with him. There were two further robberies in the same area soon after.

Soon after the John’s death, Susanna and the children moved to the Wellington Inn at Guyong. Under Susanna’s care the inn-garden with its fair view northwards along the valley of Lewis Pond’s Creek grew a pretty flowers and her inn had a reputation for good cooking. Susanna when travelling at sea had always insisted on a high standard of meals [6] and it wasn’t any less in the inn she managed. The local newspaper carried an advertisement for its attributes and a competition one weekend for a fine pig-skin saddle. The widow wasn’t about to let standards slip and after a year, when her licence was successfully up for review, the newspaper report had most to say on the fine dress of the licence board than anything else. It was to here that Edward Hargraves made his way when he returned from the California Gold Diggings to look for gold in New South Wales having worked in the district some fifteen years earlier chasing stray bullocks and had stayed overnight with Parson Tom and his large family. Parson Tom was an early settler and friend of the Listers. It was in California that Hargraves recalled the similar landscape to NSW which set him on his path to look for gold in Australia. The only time he was to be successful as the dreamer was when he came together with the practical Listers and Toms, who could take on board his teaching and instructions on how to make a gold cradle. Edward was an ideas man but for practicalities he needed others, and while there Hargraves made wild promises of rewards which were to prove hard to fulfil, and to drag through the courts for years before young John and his friends James and William Tom received recognition for finding the first payable gold on 7th April 1851. In spite of all this diversion Susanna with the help of the children continued to manage the Wellington Inn and acquire property. Susanna’s eldest daughter Sarah married William Tom on 21st June 1851. Elizabeth married Charles Arthur four years later in 1855 and young John married Charles’ sister Ann in 1860.

Watercolour believed to be by Susan Lister.

John Lister who had died at 47 had left no will, and it took many years to sort his financial affairs. The papers for the South Bruny Island grant were found after his death, and in 1860 a claim was put in for the land for young John as oldest surviving son. Though the claim was recognised with the help of Susanna there are no records as to whether the family ever benefited from it, though their efforts leaves us with a rich reward of archival papers about the family. In 1865 the third daughter Annie married William Rowe. Elizabeth’s husband Charles died suddenly in 1866 in Mudgee (two of their children had died before him — 3-year-old Alice in 1861 and young Charles at 2 in 1863). Alice was buried beside her grandfather at South Bathurst. Elizabeth married her next door neighbour in Surry Hills, a widower Jack Bate, in 1870 and their only daughter Ellen Gertrude known as Nellie was born 26th January 1872. Susanna’s two youngest two boys didn’t marry until 1879 when both married Thomas to Emily Tom and Frederick to Eliza Roberts. In all Susanna had 32 grandchildren and today has many descendants, many of them take a keen interest in her place in Australia history. Susanna died on 2nd November 1889 at the age of 83 at ‘Woodstock’, Cargo three years before the New South Wales Government recognised officially on 25th August 1891 that John Lister, William and James Tom were the first finders of payable gold in Australia. All other claimants, and there were many including Hargraves, did not find a payable field. John Lister had died of the flu in 1890 as had his sister Sarah Tom.



Notes
[1] Gerald A. Cooke member of ‘The Guild of One Name Society who is researching the Pymbles’ corrected and supplied some of the details of the Pymble family.
[2] Three sketches survive from Susanna’s scrap book two pencil drawings in Van Diemen’s Land 1836 and a water colour of the old church at Carcoar painted about 1850. In his journal Joseph Fowles records Susanna drew or painted most days of the voyage.
[3] Edward Hargraves was a cabin boy on the Fortune for 4 years before leaving to join the Clementine and eventually settling and marrying in Sydney.
[4] These records are held in Hobart Archives. Researched December 2003.
[5] Meanwhile back in Hoarwithy Susanna’s brother Thomas had bought Llanfrother Farm with the crumbling two storied house built from the ruins of St Dubricius Monastery prior to the Norman Conquest. In the 1861 census Thomas is named as a principle landowner and as a warden of St Dubricius Hentland.
[6] The Journal of a Voyage from London to Sydney in the Barque Fortune of London. Commenced April 5th 1838 written by Joseph Fowles.
[7] These records are held in the New South Wales Parliament House and were ordered by the Legislative Assembly to be printed on 2 September, 1891.



Margaret Hardwick, 2009


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Web page made 3 December 2009; last edited