Photo of Gravestone of William Oxley located in Mudgee Pioneer Park
Letters to brother in NSW State Library, written on voyage to Aust. and from Richmond area
"James Oxley - Letters received from William and Eliza Oxley, 1839-1842, NSW State Library, CY 4583, frames 19 - 66"
His brother was a school teacher.
Spent first few years as a farm manager in the Richmond area
Appointed Constable at Mudgee in 1851. Died after interceding in a drunken brawl between Maurice Dalton and James Brandon in May 1853, died as a result of injuries on 19 May, 1853
Gravestone in Mudgee Pioneer Park
Arrived Aust 20 May 1839 on "Roxborough Castle" CF
Arrived Mudgee area c1846.
He married Eliza Santer, married 4 Jun 1829 in Benenden England, b. 1807 in Benenden, Kent, England, (daughter of Samuel Santer and Mary Judge) d. 4 Jan 1869 in Mudgee.
Here is the text of Newspaper Articles about the death of William Oxley.
The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Wednesday 1 June 1853, Page 2 SERIOUS CHARGE AGAINST A PUBLICAN.-In the month of April ultimo, Maurice Dalton, a publican at the Maitland Bar, on the Turon, was committed for trial by the Mudgee Bench of Magistrates for assaulting a policeman named Oxley. Mr. Dalton was admitted to bail, but as the case assumed a serious aspect, and Oxley has died, Mr. Dalton's sureties surrendered him to the Gold Police, from whom he effected his escape, and is still at large.-Empire, May 30.
From: The Maitland Mercury... Wednesday 15 February 1854, page 4
On the 27th ultimo, Maurice Dalton, who had been apprehended in Sydney for the murder of one William Oxley, one of our constabulary, which took place in May last, was brought into our township and safely lodged in the lock-up. On the 30th ultimo he was brought before the Mudgee bench, and committed to take his trial at the next Bathurst Assizes.
What follows is the story of Williams journey out from England. I have told this story using extracts from letters he wrote back to his brother James in England. These letters are now in possession of the NSW State library. The letters from William remained in the Oxley family until the death of James' grandson at the age of 101 in 1982. They were passed on to the State Library of NSW after this.
William Oxley was born in 1804, the third of ten children. His father, John Oxley, was a butcher in Benenden in Kent. He had an older brother, James, who was a school teacher in Rolvenden, close to Benenden.
All I know of William in England is that he was a miller at the Beacon Mill in Kent. Historical records note that it had several “managers” and that it would appear to have not been very profitable.
The first letter was written shortly after departure from Gravesend, near the Isle of White (dated 11 January 1839). With William were his wife, Eliza, and his three children, Owen, Mary Anne, and Rachael, the youngest. There are also around 300 passengers crammed on board. Foul weather greeted their first weeks through the English Channel. The letters to James were intended for the whole family to read.
From a letter dated Jan 11
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, You have no doubt been very anxious to hear from us and I have been as much so, not doubting you thought some calamity must of overtaken us but am happy to say nothing of a serious nature has occured, very tempestuous weather we have had to encounter with since the day we started from Gravesend.........
we went on board on Saturday Dec 29 about 3 o'clock in the afternoon all quite well and in tolerable spirits but very great confusion. 30th all low spirited, Mary Ann cried to go back to her Grandmama. Eliza very low and wished to go back which rather unnerved me.”
Not helping the situation was the poor health of the youngest, Rachel. She suffered an injury to her arm before departure. From what I can gather it was a bad scald while she was in the care of someone else. The ships doctor took Rachel and her mother to his room early on. Sea sickness was rife aboard.
“Jan 1st, 1839. Morning very rough, nearly all sick a very pretty sight for one that was well. Dressed went to Womens apartment. Mr A. and Harriet ill in bed. Went to Eliza, She was very ill and sorry she ever started. Wished me to beg of you never to come to sea. Doctor, Butcher and Cook all sick. 4 o'clock only myself and two others able to keep on deck. Came over sick. Went to bed at 8 o'clock. All gruel up it come all over the place........a complete stomach pump. I got over my sickness the first night after about 6 throws.”
"4th Had a very rough night, sea broke over the vessel which alarmed some very much. My birthday. Eliza and I had some Gin and water.
...........7th Very rough......the sea washing over us and coming down the hatchways on poor Owen and me completely wet us through, scarcely a dry bed in the hold, driven back 30 miles."
The rough weather continued until they arrived at Portsmouth on the 11th of Jan. Measles appears to be on board.
“Rachel is very poorly. I fear we shall lose her. The rest are well. We are obliged to expend nearly the whole of our money in order to get what is proper for our use and what the children can eat since anchored, an old woman came on board with provisions who makes us pay handsomely for what we want.”
William apologetically requests more funds from his brother who has already been a great help.
"I am very sorry to ask for a few shillings more after what you have done for us but after paying Eight pounds which I did out of what I had you know how much I must be situated. I hope you will subscribe something and send me. We shall be laying at Plymouth 3 days."The ship is held up for a several more days as William learns that a replacement wheel has to be fashioned for the one lost in the storms. William appears to have a gained a job on board so that he now lives with the Steward and Third Mate, "to who is is next under". He says in a letter from Plymouth dated the 20th of January that he shall live better on board than he did on land.
"Today we had Roast Beef Pork and Boiled Ham with bottled ale and quite as much grog as I require. The Mate tells me any thing I want for my wife I am to ask him for it and he will give it."
He continues in a letter dated the 21st of January:"Nothing Dear Brother could give me more pleasure than the receipt of your letter and contents which came safe to hand this morning and for which I am truly thankful."
The rough journey seems to have an effect on passengers will to continue.
“I went on shore the day after we came in. The captain would not let but a few go as so many have ran away different time. One has given us the slip this time and left his wife. She is but very little hurt. They married one month. She is not great catch which was the cause of his starting.”
In March the 31st they arrived at the Cape of Good Hope. Sadly, the youngest daughter Rachel died on the journey.
“she never recovered from the effects of the scald or the Measles. She gradually sunk until Death put an end to her sufferings on Feb 13. On the same evening she was put overboard. You can judge the state of our minds better than I can express them, even now I am so hurt I cannot refrain from tears nor can Eliza whenever we mention her name. I do reflect on tso about the scald that I could give Mrs Gorby the old needlewoman through whom it was done a good quarrelling could I but see her; but perhaps it is the best and I will endeavour to get the better of it. Eliza you must be sure was quite worn out with fatigue and illness and is so at present. I am in the hopes that her illness is not of a serious nature. The Doctor informs me she will not be well till we land again which I expect will be seven or eight weeks.”
Williams jobs on board are to serve the provisions and do the accounts. He appears to be a general handy person on board used by the Doctor, Cook and Captain where required. The benefits are that he can provide some luxuries to his wife and children from time to time.
"It is a good thing I am situated as I am for without the priveleges I have Eliza could not have gone through what she has, I have the privilege of giving her a bottle of wine a week beside what is allowed her from the stores aslo soft bread, meat or anything that I may suppose she may fancy; I have not had the time to make many observations on our passage for being a handy person (self praise) I am continually wanted by either the Doctor, Steward or one of the Mates. The Captain and the Steward had some conversation the other day concerning me and in what way I was to be remunerated for my trouble. He says I shall have something say five pound and Intermediates berth from the Cape and also for Eliza if not for the children. They are all so very good to us that sometimes I wish never to leave the ship.”
Four children died on the journey to the Cape, but no others. William was reasonably impressed with the Cape and recommended it to others from England as a place to emigrate to.
“I think the Cape a very good place for Englishmen to emigrate to. Servants being much in request”
A dutchman makes an offer of a job as foreman of wine vaults in Cape Town to William which he seriously considers. It would cost him forty pounds to truncate his journey however (later he mentions 100 pounds), so he decides to continue.
In the letter from the Cape Eliza adds some;
“Oh I think of you all never out of my thoughts and of the thought of not seeing more in this world, at times when I am poorly make me very sad again.....I can assure you that coming to sea is a very great trial.....but parting from the poor little dear in the way I did is a trial indeed – God grant that we may all meet in Heaven never more to part. Yet how thankful I am that William is situated as he is, he is very much respected”
The next stop is Sydney. Fifteen more died on the journey from the Cape. The weather was favourable, not a single storm. On arrival in Sydney several came on board seeking labour.
“Servants and labourers appeared so much wanting as single people and no one wanted less than those with large families, which is very easily accounted for provisions of all kinds being so very dear”
William and his family remained on board until the ship was ready for departure, availing themselves of the comfortable cabins now empty. He credits the kindness of the Doctor to the recovery from sickness of Mary Ann who was sick for a week on arrival. Soon they leave the ship and rent a house with only shingles for a roof, no ceiling, no furniture, for 6/o a week. William is not impressed with Sydney.
“I intent should God spare our lives and have the means to, come back again......I intend to give it a fair trial and use every means to do well........ Sydney is a horrid wicked place worse than any place I ever heard talk of at home. I would not live here for any money”
William obtains a position as overseer at a property in the Richmond area. He thinks of it as pleasant country. He writes again a month later;
“With pleasure I write to inform you of our happiness, and to give you some better information about the country, and our situation; first our situation is one very suitable indeed for me........We have but one room to live in but quite large enough and very comfortable off quite by ourselves in the yard opposite Mr Bowmans. We get quite enough for all to live well, with vegetables without buying anytthing so I have no occasion to draw on my salary therefore shall be able to do something soon for myself. Before you read this I shall be a cattle owner myself.”
“I am rather sorry I wrote so very unfavourable about the Country in my last but I knew but little.”
Eliza takes on a job as the local school teacher. William fills his letters with descriptions of the favourable climate, the unusual animals and plants (even sending skinned animal pelts home to England for stuffing). Williams fortunes continue to grow. He is offered the lease of a farm, but feels he is better off working and saving for a while longer.
The letters from home seem to be a little scarce by 1842. In a letter dated this year William entreats his relatives to send them news as it is their only connection with family and country. He journeys to the interior of the state to his masters property some 130 miles over the Blue Mountains.
“...it took me four days journey, 26 miles over the Blue Mountains is a very barren part such mountain gulleys and deep ravines I never before saw, neither can I describe to you my feelings being alone on a mountain track not a house or a human being near as I passed on the tops of some of the ridges.......beyond the mountains and again on the Mudgee Road the land is good and some fine homesteads to relieve the eye and if inclination leads to refresh the body.”When they arrived at Mr B's property William was suitably impressed.
I was much pleased with the country, it not so thickly wooded as it is this wayt principly trees not thick and but lirttle brush wood. Mr B's cattle run is a fine one always plenty of water. He runs over an immense track of land. I went up to look at the cattle. We were 4 days collecting them so you can guess we had some riding. Two nights I slept under some bark. You require nothing about the bark, merely wrap themselves in the blanket and off to sleep. Which after a days hard riding you have a great relish for. I was so well pleased with a bush life that I had the intention of going up to reside. Consequently I went in search of a place. I found one much to my liking about 15 miles from Mr B's station well water'd and plenty of grass (although we have been without rain for nearly 12 months). There is some beautiful flat for cultivation quite equal in soil to your marsh ground.
Drought and the opinions of his master about the suitablity of his wife for this land (Mrs Oxley was too delicate to rough it) and the fact that his wife was so well patronised by the people of Richmond as Schoolmistress, that decides against removing his family to the area right away. He already has 34 head of cattle himself, and two horses.
The letters end here. I am left wondering about the rest of Williams life.
The records show that he had two more children born in Mudgee in 1846 and 1853. Perhaps he did buy some property, but the records also show that he was appointed a Police Constable in Mudgee in 1851. This would be his undoing. He died after intervening in a brawl in 1853 (his gravestone can be found in the Mudgee Pioneers Park not far from the visitors centre), only two weeks after his son was born (also William). This child also died a few months later. I imagine life was difficult after Williams death. Eliza survived until 1869, dying in Mudgee. Owen married Isabella Syme (from Scotland) in the Tambaroora goldfields in 1855. Jane Elizabeth married in 1867.
Owen appears to have remained out west for much of his life. History records at least 3 years in the Coonabarabran area (his occupation listed as “saddler”). His childrens births are recorded variously at Coonabarabran, Mudgee, Rylstone, Orange and Richmond.
If you would like more information please contact me, I would be happy to oblige.
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