Alice Dunstall – A Post For Mother’s Day

The Ballangarry Mine, owned by Herbert Dunstall who is almost certainly in this photograph. Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), Tuesday 1 August 1905, page 24

This is a semi-fictional account, although the included facts are accurate as far as we know.

The details come from oral histories and from archived records. Herbert and Alice were married in Kalgoorlie in 1899 and their son Kenneth was born there in 1900. They were a pair of intelligent, capable young adults who shared a dream of breaking free from the poverty and overwork that had destroyed their parents. In late 1900, Herbert purchased the Ballangarry Gold Mine at Lake Darlot. Alice planned to operate a boarding house, having observed the profits made in that industry in Kalgoorlie. In late 1901, Herbert and Alice became the proprietors of the Ballangarry Hotel, taking over from William (Wes) Beal(e) after his untimely demise from kidney failure at the age of 39 years .

In 1901, Herbert, Alice and baby Kenneth made the long journey into one of the harshest environments in all of Australia.

Red dust.  Swirling in the air and catching in her mouth, in her hair, in the sweaty cracks between her fingers. Rivulets of sweat trickled down her back and soaked into her sturdy shirt.  It was always a tough decision – thick clothes to protect against scratchy branches or thin clothes to stay cool.  Perched on a swaying camel tied into the middle of a camel train, Mrs Alice Dunstall reminded herself that all trials eventually come to an end.

She wiped sweat from her forehead. Kenny was a heavy red faced lump dozing against her chest.  He was tied to her, not pleasant for either of them in this afternoon heat but the only way to keep him safe for the journey.  A camel back ride was tough enough without holding a baby at the same time. The Aboriginal women in Boulder had taught her the tying trick.  They’d loved him. They always loved babies.

She turned to look behind at Herbert.  He was staring dreamily off into the horizon with the  sweat-dampened map open in his hands, unaware of the dirt or the heat or the insects buzzing in his ears.  His shirt was unbuttoned at the collar and he’d rolled up the sleeves.  He looked quite relaxed on the back of a camel in the scorching heat. 

She brushed the flies from Kenny’s face and Herbert noticed the movement.  He gave her a dazzling smile and nodded towards the west. Alice followed his eyes and recognised the shape of the hill from their map.  Herbert’s new mine was there.  He’d bought it in Kalgoorlie from a fellow who’d had enough of loneliness.  That wouldn’t happen to Herbert.  He was a solitary man who lived more in his own head than in the outer world. 

Lake Darlot’s location in the East Murchison Gold Field. Map of the West Australian goldfields 1896 : Coolgardie to Lake Darlot /​ compiled by J. T. Buxton, Coolgardie. Out of copyright.

With a lurch, the camels changed step.  She grabbed for the pommel with one hand and cupped the other round Kenny’s head.  They had topped a rise.  Now it was a long descent to – to what?  Was it rooftops before them?  The hard bare land stretched in all directions like an ocean in sunset, perforated by stunted trees and shadowy hollows that might be caves.  Sweat dripped into her eyes and her cheek stung.  She was burned, even with her broad-brimmed hat.

Was there a lake at Lake Darlot?  Sometimes there was, she had been told. When the rains came the place turned green in a matter of days. It was because of the rains that they were coming in by camel.  Five months ago the greatest flood ever known in the region had washed away the cart track and even now the eroded surface was all but impassable. The long, slow journey by steam train from Boulder to Leonora had been an adventure.  This stretch was rapidly losing its charm.

After the rains came the water soaked into the ground in a matter of days.  The skies powdered into a harsh blue and the red ground reasserted its supremacy. She had seen it already, right across Western Australia.  In her childhood she had known swirling white fog over the Thames in an English world of winter, cloaking the buildings until it seemed as if no other person could be found in the county at all.  This was the same scene painted in different hue.  Maybe those empty-seeming hills were as peopled as the world she had left?  Maybe locals were watching them even now?

The descent was bumpy and Kenny woke with a sad, croaking drizzle.  She pulled out the water bottle and splashed a few warm drops into his mouth.  At eight months he needed to drink more, but she wouldn’t feed him now. The buildings before them were taking shape – squat wooden structures quickly erected in the new little mining town and a main street taking form with tall, graceful houses of stone.  Faces stared from doorways as they passed.        

Map of the West Australian goldfields 1896 : Coolgardie to Lake Darlot /​ compiled by J. T. Buxton, Coolgardie. Out of copyright.

The Ballangarry Hotel was a low, long building walled in painted iron sheets with a wide verandah. It was a very welcome sight on a hot afternoon.  The camel driver gave a bellow and Alice clung for dear life as her mount lowered itself into a kneeling position.  An Aboriginal woman came out from the hotel verandah and reached out a hand to touch Kenny’s cheek.  The woman said something that Alice did not understand.  Alice nodded slowly and smiled.  She did not know the language but the sentiment was clear.

A portly man appeared then, his white skin a strong contrast to the woman’s.  He reached out a hand to help her off the camel.  Alice very stiffly forced her limbs into motion.

“You’d have to be Mrs Dunstall.”  he greeted her.  “Welcome to our little town.”  He had a wheeze in his voice.  “Wes Beal, proprietor.”

Herbert came to stand beside her. “How long before nightfall?”  He asked.

Alice gave him a sharp look.  “There’s no time to see the mine this afternoon, Herb.  We have to release the camels or they’ll charge us another day.”

Wes chuckled and nodded.  “They have us over a barrel, these Afghans, and they know it. They’re richer than the rest of us all together.  Got to admit, they’ve been invaluable to the Ballangarry. Would you like to step indoors, Mrs Dunstall?”

Oh, how Alice wanted to step indoors!  “I’ll just watch the unloading first.”  she said with a sigh.  Herbert was too dreamy, all kinds of tradesmen took advantage of him. 

Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), Friday 29 August 1930, page 2

The Aboriginal woman made an arm gesture, offering to hold Kenny.  Alice threw her a grateful look and untied the wrap.  The woman reached out eager arms.  She knew just how to hold a baby.  She stared with fascination at Kenny’s face.

“Kenny.” Alice touched her son’s head.  The woman smiled.  “Kenneh.”

Close enough.  Alice pointed to herself.  “Alice.”

The woman frowned.  “Ah – Ale.”  Then she pointed to herself.  “Ehggei.”

“Ehggei.”  Alcie repeated.  The woman’s eyes narrowed.  “Ehggei”  She repeated.

After three attempts, Alice still hadn’t got it right but had come closest with ‘Egg’.  They smiled at each other in satisfaction.  Ale and Egg. 

With the camels unloaded and some local miner’s sons earning a few pennies bringing the goods indoors, Alice finally entered the spacious interior of the hotel with her husband, her son and her new friend Egg.


William Burleton 1783-1842 :Transportation

These are the final years of William Burleton, my 4x great grandfather, continued from Part II .

William died 177 years ago and we can’t know his true personality, but I’ve always liked him as he presents in the records. It’s clear that people in his own day didn’t know how to take him. Some thought him pompous and entitled, some just thought he was useless. Others seem to have liked him well enough. He was never completely without friends.

I see him as an impractical man, someone unsuited to daily slog. He had grand visions for his own future but was completely unable to manage his finances. That was his greatest downfall. I think he had pride in himself but that pride took a battering as the years passed, as he had more and more need to prove to both himself and others that he could be the man he had always believed he would become.

By 1836 he was in prison, awaiting transportation to the colonies to complete a seven year sentence. He was an old man now, aged 54, but of general good health and a skilled miller. There’s little doubt that he knew his trade well, it was the one thing that had saved him again and again.

Ship at night, 1854 from Religious Tract Society pamphlett

On 6th April 1836, William Burleton and 324 other male prisoners were loaded onto the ship Lord Lyndoch for its second convict run to Van Diemen’s Land.

Up till this time, William may have hoped for a reprieve; may not have believed it could go this far. He was not the typical convict. He was twice the age of most of his new contemporaries, of good birth and well educated. He was not a Welshman but due to his arrest and trial in Wales his cellmates were all from that country and many still spoke their own language. His differences might have seemed relevant. There was every reason to stay optimistic, but nobody stepped forward to save him from his fate.

The barque Lord Lyndoch was captained on this journey by the experienced John Baker. The surgeon was James Lawrence. It was an East India Company ship, leased to the British Navy in the usual manner. Built in 1815, it was in good repair but not of modern design. It was an experienced convict transport, there was no reason to expect any problems on the voyage.

An outbreak of dysentery while still at Sheerness delayed their departure. The earliest entry in the surgeon’s log is dated 10th April. The first two victims probably brought the sickness on board and both died after a week of treatment. No captain was going to make a long journey with illness on board, so the Lord Lyndoch sat in harbour until the infection was brought under control.

Shipping scene from London Illustrated News Aug 16 1856 p 170

A fortnight after William came on board, they were cleared to leave. The ship departed quietly for Deal off the coast of Kent, its departure scarcely rating a mention in local papers.

Deal – arrived the ‘Lord Lyndoch’, Baker, for Hobart Town …

Globe 20 April 1836 p4 Naval Intelligence

Deal – the ‘Lord Lyndoch’, for Hobart Town, and several others, outward-bound, remain.

Globe 22 April 1836 p4 Naval Intelligence

On 24th April the Lord Lyndoch finally put out to sea. They made good time for an old ship, the whole journey taking 118 days. Conditions on board were stable, a small amount of jaundice and scurvy troubling the prisoners but the surgeon took quick action. William Burleton – recorded in the convict register as William Bourleton – was not treated for any illness on the journey.

There are very few references to the ship as it traveled, but they seem to have taken the usual route down the west coast of Africa, stopping at the Capetown for supplies. The only report is accidental, part of a conversation between rival newspapers in the colonies.

Bent’s News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1836 – 1837), Saturday 6 August 1836, page 4

The Lord Lyndoch arrived in Hobart Town on 20th August 1836 and the arrival was reported in pretty much every paper in the colony.

Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), Friday 26 August 1836, page 3

William’s conduct report is very short, but enough detail is given to track his life after arrival.

Conduct report for William Bourleton State Library of Tasmania
CON31-1-3 Image 106 page 154

Transcript of details above: Transported for Larceny,

Gaol Report: Character Bad of Late, formerly good, Connections Respectable, Hulk Report Good, Married, Stated this Offence: Stealing Books & Other Articles, Prosecutor W James of Monmouth, Married 7 Children, Wife Elizabeth at Monmouth, Surgeon’s report Orderly

You don’t often see ‘Connections Respectable’ in these records. You might see ‘good’, or ‘bad’ or often ‘indifferent’. But ‘Respectable’ probably means that William was telling people of his good birth and early prospects. He may have been negotiating for an assignment suitable for his position in society. Of course, position in society was officially gone once one became a convict, but in reality well born convicts still had some influence.

His name often appears beside Jenkin Jenkins’ in nonalphabetized records, so I think the two were friends.

His Description List is as follows:

State Library of Tasmania CON18/1/13 Page 284

The British prison system was tasked with finding any skill that William possessed which could make him a useful resource. I really doubt he called himself a ploughman or a farm labourer. He was a Miller, that’s what he always said. But the colonies needed farm workers so any farm experience made him worthy of transportation. As it turned out, Van Diemen’s Land needed millers as well. William was assigned to settler Andrew Gatenby who had land at the Isis River north of Campbell Town.

State Library of Tasmania, Appropriation Lists of Convicts CON27/1/2
Gatenby’s very large land grant was in the circled region. Public domain map of Van Diemen’s Land 1852

This description of the region was published four years before William’s arrival and references the mill in which William worked.

‘Statistical View of Van Diemen’s Land: Comprising Its Geography, Geology &c Forming A Complete Emigrant’s Guide’ 1832, no author named

We don’t have much detail of William’s daily life here, but the absence of notes in his conduct report suggests that he settled well. He coped with the cold and the bushrangers and the different types of grain. No doubt he wrote letters back to Wales and perhaps to Somerset as well, but if so, none have survived.

Present day Campbell Town, taken 2014

He received a ticket of leave in 1840 and letters written to the Lieutenant Governor in 1842 by Andrew Gatenby and John Gellibrand – two very influential men in Van Diemen’s Land – refer to William Burleton as a man who has contributed to the establishment of the settlement. Both men recommend him for an early pardon and request that he be allowed to return to his family in Wales.

It’s another indication that his inability to handle money was the root of all his troubles. While he was not required to manage finances he achieved very well.

The final part of his conduct report (above) states:

“The Lieut Governor has been pleased to remit the unexpired portion of this man’s sentence in order that he may leave the colony to proceed to England”

Conduct report for William Bourleton State Library of Tasmania
CON31-1-3 Image 106 page 154

It must have been a great moment for William. Finally he had the respect of some capable men – Gatenby and Gellibrand – and he might have learned some practicality during his time in the colony. But he was now aged 60 and clearly just wanted to go home to his family.

He booked onto a ship called the Normuhul, a small vessel leaving from Launceston for London on 20 April 1842.

The northern Tasmania coast in the rain. Taken 2015

Exactly six years earlier he had stood on the deck of the Lord Lyndoch as it waited at Deal, had probably looked across to the British shoreline and wondered if he would ever see it again. Now, no doubt, he stood on the deck of the Normuhul and looked at the forests along the Van Diemen’s Land coast. Probably, he was promising himself that he would never return. But maybe he intended to fetch his family and bring them back? Many did exactly that.

I haven’t found a picture of the Normuhul, but I like to think it was a pleasant boat since it was part of William’s almost triumphant return. He was the recipient of a full pardon, he was still a legitimate British citizen and he was going home at last.

It seems absolutely tragic that he didn’t get there. He’d probably written a letter telling Elizabeth that he was coming back. But it just wasn’t to be, the William Burleton streak of bad luck had returned.

It took me years to find William’s death. I knew that Elizabeth called herself a widow in the 1851 British census, but I never could find when he actually passed away.

Here it is in a section titled ‘Shipwrecks and Casualties at Sea’

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), Saturday 13 May 1843

The wreck was never recovered so we don’t know exactly where they went down. This was a misfortune entirely outside of his control for a man who always tried so very hard and failed so often. But he died with a clear record and at long last, leaving a good reputation behind him in Van Diemen’s Land.

Some of his family remained in Monmouth and their descendants are still there today. The rest returned to Somerset.

William Burleton 1783-1842 – Convicted Felon

This post continues the trials and tribulations of William Burleton, my 4 x great grandfather,  which began here.  

William Burleton’s home by 1833.- view is of nearby Crickhowell from Llangattock in Monmouthshire

Starting this post where the last one ended,  William was a man in his forties who now needed to claw his way back from bankruptcy.  He had some skills as a miller, he was quite well educated and he still had the basic support of his now-distant family.  Moving to the rainy County of Brecknock in Wales was probably not what he wanted, but it was a fair move to make at this juncture.

A most interesting book ‘A practical treatise on the Bankrupt Law, as amended by the new Act of the 6 Geo IV c 16‘ ( the Hon Robert Henry Eden 1825) tells us that even in 1825, five years was the period set in which a bankrupt cannot own property or borrow money.  William was declared bankrupt in 1826 so by 1831 he was considered solvent again. In 1833 he moved to Llangattock where he became the employee of local miller John James. 


Llangattock seems to be dismissively covered in many books of the time as the place that had ‘nothing of interest’.  Perhaps so, but there is enough written about it to get a decent picture of life there in the 1830s.

The story of Llangattock is tied up with nearby Crickhowell, to the extend that the two villages are occasionally referred to as one, much like William’s home villages of East and West Harptree in Somerset. He and Elizabeth may have felt comfortable with that.  The two Welsh villages were on opposite sides of the River Usk and connected by a bridge.

Both William’s old home and the new had extensive cave systems which locals liked to explore.  Wales lacked the documented antiquity for which Somerset was known, where visitors to the caves could find Roman or Pagan artefacts as a keepsake and it was easy to identify them as such.  The history of Wales was oral only, with just a few early scholars writing up their suppositions.

That said, here is the report of one 1810s scholar:

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 425

The church of Llangattock was supposedly one of many founded in Wales by Cattwyg of the Court of Arthur.  As a pastoral region the area was too sandy to give anything beyond the comfortable support of a hardworking family, so it took the discovery of iron to bring it out of obscurity and into the modern world of 1800.  

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 491

I’ve included that image from Mr Jones’ very detailed book for two reasons.  One is to fill out the world of Llangattock at that time. The other is for the reference to Mr Butler, since William’s mother was a Butler by birth.  More research will be undertaken to see if there was a connection.

If I were researching a different man I’d think that employment at the mines could have brought him to Breconshire.  But not William Burleton. He would never had coped with such heavy, mindless, undignified work as mining.  I really don’t see him as an arrogant, evil overlord. I think he was a creative, unwordly man with no capacity to adapt to his circumstances.  He was probably spoiled as a child and he always had assumed his future was secure.  But I cannot imagine him coping with heavy work like mining. He was trained as a miller and he stuck to that because that’s what he knew and that’s what he could do.

Another view from Llangattock

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 464

In all of my recent research into Llangattock, I haven’t found any reference to a mill.  I do know it was there because William Burleton became an employee at it in 1833.  It was owned by a Mr John James and was intended to be passed on to his eldest son, John James the younger.

But I do have a little bit about fairs which might be relevant, to finish off my village description:

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 464

William and Elizabeth Burleton moved to Llangattock by 1833 with probably six of their ten children, being Sarah (20), Elizabeth (17), George (13), John (12), Robert (10) and Eliza (9).  I’m quite sure that the girls went with them, but not so sure about the boys since they have proven hard to research.  I know for sure that Francis and Will – then aged 18 and 15 – remained in Somerset with their uncle Robert at Eastwood Manor Farm.

According to a local newspaper, William was empoyed from December 1833 till October 1834 when he took over as Manager of the mill, in the employ of John James.  It all fell apart on 7th April 1835.

It’s pretty clear that William was once more in financial difficulties.  The story as told in the papers is as follows:

“The prosecutor (John James Esq) left property in the mill-house, locked up in a room. On the 7th April was at the mill and saw the property safe.; was at the mill about the beginning of June, and found some panes of glass broken in the window; met the prisoner near the house; when he returned to the house found the door forced; did not miss the pistols till a black trunk, in which they were locked, was found in a wood; in the second week of July saw them in the possession of a person of the name of Thomas, a  pawn broker, in Bristol.”  (Brecon Gazette)

The story was written up in great detail probably because John James was such an influential local man.  And my William went to a lot of trouble to take the stolen goods all the way to Bristol.  If only he hadn’t dumped that trunk in the forest!  But the dumping of the trunk changed his likely motives.  Were he trying to overcome a temporary embarrassment and had intended to retrieve  the pistols, he would have kept the trunk to replace. 

“The pawnbroker identified the prisoner as the man who pledged the property, giving his name William Butler of Dundry, near Bristol.  The pistols were then produced and identified.”

William Burleton was found guilty.  As this was a first offence he was sentenced to a short term of imprisonment.  

Which is where it all gets suspicious.  A first offence under a certain value led to imprisonment.  If the value of the stolen items was less than five pounds, transportation was a sentence that could only be applied to repeat offenders.

Cruet stand.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]

The Brecon Gazette continued the story:

The prisoner was then tried on the other indictment, for stealing a cruet stand and three bottles, and other articles; but as the property was taken at the same time and from the same place as that laid in the former indictment, and as the evidence adduced was the same, it is unnecessary to give it in detail. The prisoner was found guilty on the second indictment, and sentenced to seven years transportation.

The reason given by the James family for the two indictments was that some of the property (the pistols) belonged to John James Senior while the cruet stand belonged to John James Junior.  But had they tried such a thing in a busy court like Birmingham or Surrey it would have been treated with utmost contempt. It was a clear manipulation of the law to remove William Burleton for good.  William Burleton’s lawyer, Mr Lee, apparently gave a good defense but they were no match for the influence of the wealthy and well connected John James.  And perhaps, knowing William as we do, Mr James had correctly identified that William would not learn his lesson and would remain an ever growing problem for Llangattock.

William was incarcerated in the Monmouth jail for a few days more, then shipped off to Sheerness to the hulk Ganymede along with fellow prisoners  Jenkin Jenkins and William Richards.

‘Day 159 Stormy III’ by Craig Holgate 
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) No changes made.

On 6th April 1836, just a few months before John James Junior entered holy matrimony with Margaret Davies back in Llangattock, my William Burleton along with Jenkin Jenkins and William Richards were loaded on board the Lord Lyndoch, ready for transportation to Van Diemen’s Land and a future that none could predict.

Story of William continues here.


  • Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette 15 August 1835
  • A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809
  • A practical treatise on the Bankrupt Law, as amended by the new Act of the 6 Geo IV c 16 by Robert Henley Eden Baron Henley 1829
  • Monmouthshire Merlin 22 August 1835

Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton – the role of fiction in family history research

Gateway to Eastwood Manor where Francis lived with his wealthier relatives

Once upon a time I completed a course in genealogy which included some units in writing fictional accounts of our ancestors’ lives.

This was very hard for me to do, after years of diligently verifying each fact a minimum of three different ways before including it in my tree.  My very first piece of flash fiction felt wrong, as if I were disrespecting my ancestors’ memories. It was like gossiping about a neighbour, spreading false ideas about their motives and personality traits. 

Since then I’ve discovered that hypothesis is a useful tool. The trick is to ensure that anything fictional is clearly labelled as such. Of course, the canny genealogist considers every piece of information as fictional until proven otherwise, but to be complicit in creating fiction – well, that’s a whole new uncomfortable ball game.

In the past few years, though, I’ve seen it used quite effectively. One example is in the late Nigel Triffitt’s wonderful blog about the Triffitts of Tasmania.  He mixes facts with speculation and uses his prodigious writing talent to bring that early settler family to well rounded life.  I’ve also found that some respected researchers create suppositional trees while trying to sort family groups from a specific record set – such as all the baptisms of a particular church. Again, the trick is to ensure that nobody with access to that tree thinks it’s the final result.  And as already stated, the seasoned family researcher doesn’t believe other people’s trees ever.  We all do the research over again ourselves to see if we come to the same conclusions.

So that’s the preamble.  Most of this post is flash fiction about my 3x great grandparents Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton.  The question I set out to answer in my fiction was how they could leave their first born (only) infant son in his lonely grave and move all the way to the southern hemisphere. How did they feel about that?  

While it’s not ‘true’, I incorporated as many facts as I could.  The family relations are correct. The cemetery is the correct cemetery.  The personalities of Francis and Fanny Eliza are as correct as I can make them using their own voice via family papers and wills.

I like this couple so much that I wanted to share my vision of them with the rest of the world.  Their story makes an epic tale of success in Australia tied up neatly with the success of Bowna and the beginnings of the iconic Hume Highway. 

Two courageous young adults of good intellect.  Both were poor relations amidst the solid wealth of their cousins in the Somerset village of East Harptree.  Both had the capacity to be so much more.  It must have been tough. 

Eastwood Manor – home of the Burletons in the mid 18th Century

I’ve covered some ancestral background of this couple in previous blogs.  William Burleton and Thomas Wookey are the fathers of Francis and Fanny Eliza respectively.  I’ve written a little about Fanny Eliza and I’ve also touched on William’s father John Burleton.   After marrying in East Harptree, Francis and Fanny lived in nearby Coley where their daughter Mary Anne and son Albert Edward were born. Albert lived for eight months.  This fictional piece is set at his burial in East Harptree. 

Fictional Piece – A Burial at East Harptree

On a balmy morning in spring when new leaves budded on the trees and robins fossicked for twigs to make their nests, Francis Burleton followed slowly behind a tiny coffin destined for the East Harptree churchyard.

Fanny Eliza, black clad and very contained, walked at his side carrying their daughter. His wife’s haunted poise wrenched the breath from his chest. Mary was settled deep into her mother’s arms, very aware that catastrophe of some sort had struck the family.  She was good as gold this day, quiet as an old woman with her little toddler fingers wrapped in black mittens against the cold.

At the churchyard he waited with his wife and his brother Will, lost in thought.  Would the sunny girl he had married emerge again? Or was she now a different creature? Could any of them be the same again?

Here was the grave of John Burleton, his grandfather.  He remembered a solid man of stoic demeanor and poker face, the last of the old style of yeoman farmers.  Church warden, local magistrate and of impeccable reputation. John Burleton had even entertained aristocracy at Eastwood Farm. His excellent husbandry added wealth to local importance. It meant something here in Somerset to be a Burleton.

But Francis remembered that time when he was just a boy where he had no place to be, overhearing a tirade of abuse hurled at his Papa by this great man. John Burleton with florid cheeks and booming voice in the parlour at Eastwood Farm.  And his own Papa, six inches taller but cowed and silent, accepting the abuse.

“A bankrupt! A Burleton in the bankruptcy courts?  How DARE you show your face on this property now! I might have known you’d throw it all away, boy,  but I’ll be damned if I’ll permit you to take us with you.”

Even then, afraid to move for fear of being spotted, Francis had marvelled at the difference between the two men. His grandpapa so black and stiff. His father so ethereal, tall and thin with light wispy hair.  His grandpapa with rigid routines and his papa with a new grand scheme every day.  But Francis did not, back then, know what bankruptcy was.

That was just before the move to Wales escaping whispers and recriminations. Mamma  staunchly supported Papa, as always. The Burletons never had approved of her and she was happier in Wales. Until the dreadful day that Papa was transported to the colonies as a common criminal. That day shattered all the family’s hopes, silenced their dreams and forced them to reassess their whole world.

It really was not Papa’s fault. He had set the Welsh town against him with his criticism and grand schemes, had upset the natural order of things as he always did. He wasn’t a criminal, but he had disrespected the property of others.  They’d taken action, got him shipped off.  It was a stitch up.

Francis and Will were brought back to Somerset, placed at Eastwood Farm with their Uncle Robert to learn good management. They were servants on the property that might have been their own had their father not been who he was. It was a heavy enough trial to endure.  But how could they blame Papa for being himself?  Papa was born that way, with some odd twist in his brain that denied him the gift of foresight.  Papa’s dreams were more real to him than reality.   And the fact was that Uncle Robert had taught them a great deal. They could now do what their father could not – keep a farm and family together, make it work for them.

As a bitterly cold drizzle settled over the churchyard, Francis caught the eye of his brother.  Now Will was heeding the call for emigrants and leaving them.  Heading off to the wild lands of New South Wales in search of gold and pastoral land. The thought pulled him back to the present and Francis looked round at the rest of the mourners waiting with him. 

Uncle Robert stood alone, solid and poker faced just like a Burleton of old. He wasn’t happy with the funeral arrangements.  Little Albert should have been buried in the Burleton plot, but Fanny Eliza had put her foot down and she was a Wollen.  

Wollen. An old name, true aristocracy.  They’d daughtered out now and Fanny’s mother had been one of the last. Francis had married her for herself, not her family name.  Yet, she had a power over the Burletons that he could never have imagined and she was not in awe of them at all. 

He watched her move quietly to her mother’s grave and place a finger lightly on the headstone as she always did.  Just a quiet ‘hello Mamma’ to the woman who had died before her babies could come to know her. It was Fanny Eliza’s decree that her first born son would be buried here, with his grandmother to watch over him for all eternity.  

St Laurence at East Harptree Rodw [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons

The tiny coffin was lowered.  Francis and Fanny Eliza cast the first sod. They watched their cherished son vanish from view forever.  Francis had the distinct impression that Fan was burying her innocence in that little grave with her boy.  When it was done she looked at him. Silver droplets of rain shimmered on her smooth dark hair. Serene. Peaceful. Determined. Changed.

“Will has the right idea.” She said.  “We have nothing here. Mamma will care for Albert now.”

Francis looked at her in puzzlement.  

Fanny Eliza looked across the churchyard.  “I want to move to the colonies. This place is not good for children.”

Move to the colonies. Will had suggested it weeks ago and he now felt a stirring of curiosity. What might it be like?

But if Fanny Eliza had decided there was no question.

“Yes.” He looked solemnly at her.  “Let’s do that.”

They walked across the churchyard to rejoin the mourners.

Thomas Wookey 1789-1846 : A man in search of belonging?

Christian Ladies Magazine 1851
Image of motherhood from Christian Ladies Magazine 1851. Unsigned, no attribution. Publication by the Religious Tract Society, London.

From the perspective of research, Thomas Wookey has been one of the most troublesome ancestors ever.  Coming from a nice, orderly section of the tree where everyone lived quietly and methodically in the same village for centuries, he issued a challenge to my assumptions.  Which is most welcome of course, family research would be boring if the ancestors all did the same thing. But I do like to find the answers after a reasonable search. I think I have the truth this time.

Thomas was the father of Fanny Eliza Wookey, my four times great grandmother.  I’ve written about her here and I have more of her story to write in future posts.  

Originally, I thought he was the Thomas Wookey born 1800 who married Ann Bowles.  That one lined up perfectly to be the second wife of a grieving young widower with two babies, as my Thomas became.  But no, I later conclusively found my Thomas in the 1841 census born in the 1780s.  So he wasn’t the man who married Ann Bowles.  I next decided he had to be the son of George and Martha Wookey born 1780 in East Harptree. Very logical, made heaps of sense.  There was no other Thomas Wookey born in that twenty year period.

Then I gained access to his digitized marriage record with Fanny Eliza’s mother stating he was a widower – a detail missing from the previously available transcription.   That missing first wife was the biggest puzzle yet. Then I found two death records for Thomas Wookeys of the same age in East Harptree.  We had one baptism and two burials.  One of them had come from elsewhere.  Only one lived long enough for the 1851 census, and that one said he was born in East Harptree and he was unmarried, not widowed.  So I looked out of the Harptrees altogether and found my man.

His story begins in Congresbury in Somerset. 

Congresbury in Somerset – Thomas Wookey’s actual birthplace

Sometime in very late 1788 or early 1789, 19 year old Ann Wookey gave birth to an illegitimate son who she named Thomas.  He was baptised in Congresbury on the 18th January 1789.

Portion of baptism record: Somerset Heritage Service; Taunton, Somerset, record D\P\con/2/1/4

Ann was the fourth daughter of William and Mary Wookey of Rowberrow,  She may have been staying with relatives for the birth for the sake of propriety.  That sort of thing did happen.  Looking back further, her father William was himself an illegitimate son (sigh) so hopefully he did not judge her harshly.  This is quite a recent discovery and I have not traced her siblings yet.  I also have no idea what happened next to Ann Wookey.  

Thomas grew to adulthood out of the records and I found him next in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, as an adult involved with a religious group called the Moravians.  It’s this occurrence that leads me to wonder if he was seeking a place in the world to belong to.

The Moravians were a European version of Christianity who believed in open air services.  There were only a few groups of them in England.  They called each other brethren and Thomas was probably very happy in their midst. 

A couple of surnames dominate the Malmesbury Moravian Parish Register.  One of those names is Robertson. It may have been his meeting with Elizabeth Robertson that brought Thomas into the fold. Or maybe he came in and then met Elizabeth?  The pair were married in the Malmesbury Anglican church in 1821.

Marriage record of Thomas Wookey and Elizabeth Robertson 6th August 1821 via 
Wiltshire History Centre

I haven’t located Elizabeth’s birthplace or parents but one of the witnesses to this marriage was Matthew Robertson.

Thomas and Elizabeth had only the one child that I can discover.  A daughter, Fanny Elizabeth baptised in Calne in 1823.  Fanny Elizabeth was buried a year later. 

Portion of baptism of Fanny Elizabeth Wookey in Calne. 
Wiltshire History Centre record 2176/1

Fanny Elizabeth was buried on 12 Mar 1824 and her record has been out there for years in transcription form.  I’ve looked at it in the past, mistakenly thinking it referred to my Fanny Eliza.  I once added the baptism record then realized that it came too far before the marriage to be right.  But somehow, because it was in Wiltshire not Somerset and because I’d fixed on the wrong Thomas in the first place, it never even occurred that this could have been the sister of my own Fanny Eliza.  It must have been a terrible time for Thomas.  I may be wrong again, but I get the impression that he didn’t deal well with death.  He certainly saw more of it than many families did.  

He had two more months with his wife before she, too, lost her struggle with life and passed away.

Portion of burial of Elizabeth Wookey Non-parochial Register RG 4; Piece Number: 3061

It was after this that Thomas found his way to East Harptree. He was a Wookey of Rowberrow not of Harptree, so what took him there?  My guess is that he met young Hannah Wollen somewhere else while she was visiting relatives.

Thomas’ mother Ann Wookey was the younger sister of Walter Clarke Wookey who by this time had married Mary Wollen.  It’s likely that Mary Wollen was a relative of Hannah’s, though I haven’t found the exact connection.   Hannah lived with her mother and stepfather, her own father having died when she was a baby.  The Wollens were of good name and her father was listed as ‘Esquire’ in her baptism record. She had a moderate amount of money from her father’s will to help keep them.  

On 9th June 1825, Thomas Wookey and Hannah Wollen were married at the church of St Laurence in East Harptree.  Thomas was 37 years old, Hannah was 18.  They settled in West Harptree and a year after their marriage a daughter was born to the couple.  The little girl was baptised Fanny Eliza on 15 Oct 1825 and she was my four times great grandmother.  Two years later in 1828, a son named Alfred Wollen Wookey joined the little family.

Then in August 1830 Hannah died, apparently of pregnancy complications.  She was buried in West Harptree.

St Marys Cemetery West Harptree

Thomas never tried again to have a family of his own.  His two children were sent to private boarding schools from a rather young age.  In the 1841 census he can be found living with his mother-in-law’s widowed second husband (Hannah’s stepfather) and he is shown as an invalid labourer. 

He lived long enough to attend (presumably) the wedding of his daughter Fanny Eliza with Francis Burleton in 1844, but not long enough to meet any of his known grandchildren. After their marriage, Francis and Fanny moved to Bristol and it looks as though Thomas went with them, so his final few years were possibly in just the sort of family group that I think he always wanted.

On 29 Oct 1845 Thomas Wookey died probably in Bristol and was buried in the cemetery at West Harptree with his second wife Hannah.  His two surviving children each married and raised families of their own, but for some strange reason neither gave any son his name.  

There are still a lot of holes in my research regarding Thomas Wookey, but everything I have now fits together very well.  So hopefully this sets the story straight.  

Burial of Thomas Wookey at West Harptree, showing his residence as Bristol

The Early Years of Elizabeth Butler

Elizabeth Butler
Elizabeth Butler (1874-1951) taken in England before her marriage c 1898

This photograph of my great grandmother Elizabeth Butler has hung on a wall in my grandparents’ house probably since their house was built in 1936.  Her theatrical costume and her beautiful figure are familiar to us all.  So familiar, in fact, that it was years before I ever wondered what else there was to be known about her.

Then I discovered that her paper trail was very hard to locate.  After ten years of searching, this blog covers just about everything I have found.


Elizabeth’s father was Laurence (or Lawrence) Cecil Butler . He was born around 1840 in Ireland – possibly Dublin – and came from a very good family who had fallen on hard times.  This is almost my entire knowledge of Lawrence’s early life and came through oral history within the family.  It’s very hard to verify a story like this, but I faithfully include it in the family story, pending confirmation.

Laurence worked on ships and in later verifiable records he was a seaman of different roles.  Unfortunately there are several men named ‘Laurence Butler’ who worked in shipping.  They may have all been related, but picking our Laurence in early years is hard.

The first definite record of Laurence is his marriage to Mary Jones in Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales in October 1867.

At this time he was a single father with a toddler son named James.  The child was born around 1864 in Ireland according to a later census.  I have not discovered the mother of that child, but there are a few female Butler deaths in Ruabon which might be a mother and newborn daughter in 1866.

Laurence’s presumably second wife – Mary Jones of Wrexham, Denbighshire – remains a shadowy figure.  Her name is no help whatsoever.


View from Ruabon Mountain, near Wrexham © Copyright Expresso Addict, used under . No changes made.

Laurence and Mary settled near Wrexham and a year later their daughter Harriet was born.

After the birth of Harriet the small family moved to Lancashire, England and settled in Liverpool. Laurence can be found here in various shipping records, receiving five pounds a week in wages as a regular employee on the ‘City of Richmond’.  He worked on this ship for several years.

City of Richmond
The ‘City of Richmond’  , copyrighted to and reproduced here in accordance with their conditons. NB This is a fantastic site for shipping images and ship details.

The ‘City of Richmond’ traveled regularly between Liverpool and New York.  It was a round trip of about eighteen days, so Laurence was probably home for a few days every three weeks or so.

A son Richard was born in 1870.  Sarah Ann followed in early 1873, baptised in Ruabon, then finally came our Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Butler was born on 12th July 1874 in Liverpool. Her baptism was 16 days later (28th July) at Our Lady of Reconciliation de La Salette in Liverpool.  Her godfather was John Price and there is no godmother in the record.

Church in which Elizabeth Butler was baptised. This was a new church at the time of her birth. By Rept0n1x [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.
At least one more child was born to Laurence and Mary – Thomas in about 1877.  Then in 1878, young Richard died and was buried in Liverpool. The family at this time lived in Tatlock Street in Merseyside.  They were still living in Tatlock St for the 1881 census.

Lawrence Butler 35 Head general labourer born Ireland married
Mary Butler 37 wife born Wales married
James Butler 17 son dockyard labourer born Ireland single
Harriet Butler 13 daughter scholar born Wales single
Sarah Butler 8 daughter scholar born Wales single
Elizabeth Butler 6 daughter scholar born Wales single (actually born in Liverpool)
Thomas Butler 4 son born Liverpool single

What was life like for Elizabeth growing up in an urban place like Merseyside?  Her father’s wage never changed. He earned five pounds a week for most of his working life. Money probably became tight for the family.

At some point they moved to Everton.  The 1891 census shows them living at Sampson St, Everton.  Note that Elizabeth is recorded as ‘Lizzie’.

Lawrence Butler 48 Head Seaman born Ireland married
Mary Butler 46 wife born Wales married
Harriet Butler 22 daughter Confectioner sweets born Wales single
Sarah Ann Butler 18 daughter Confectioner sweets born Wales single
Lizzie Butler 16 daughter Confectioner sweets born Liverpool single
Thomas Butler 14 son scholar born Liverpool single

The family was not wealthy, but in 1892 Laurence at last secured a better job at a higher pay rate. He became a steward on board a brand new freight vessel, the ‘Naronic’.

The beginning of an article in the ‘Western Times’ from 01 June 1892. Laurence may have worked on this ship from about this date.

At the end of January 1893 the Naronic landed in Liverpool delivering 700 head of cattle and an assortment of containers. By 2nd February it was loading for the trip out.  By the 3rd February it had sailed with Laurence on board. On 4th of February it passed the Old Head of Kinsale near Cork.

She was never seen again.

The papers scarcely mention the ship through the month of February.  For the first fortnight it would just have been an absence of sightings or telegraph – a cause for concern, but not necessarily alarm. Business would be severely affected if word got out that a ship was missing, so it seems the Captains of that company’s ships were asked to keep a close lookout but no one else was informed.

SS Naronic circa 1892.

The first official word seems to have been around 3rd March when the Naronic was a month overdue.

No news has yet been received at the White Star office in Liverpool of the overdue steamer Naronic, and although the officials of the company have no doubt as to her safety, they do not conceal their anxiety for some information.  The vessel is now eleven days overdue. It is believed that one of the screws of the Naronic has become disabled and she is drifting. She carries about fifty hands and a general cargo.

Dundee Courier 03 March 1893 page 3 ‘The Overdue Naronic’

While ships did become disabled, get blown miles off their course by cyclones or have fires that required docking at minor ports for long periods of time, this was more common for older ships than new ones.  The Naronic was just a year old, equipped with telegraph and all mod cons.  The Butler family must have hoped for the best but feared the worst.

Reports began to trickle in from arriving ships … no sighting anywhere. A lifeboat found. Debris found. No, the lifeboat wasn’t from the Naronic after all. The debris wasn’t from the Naronic either. A rumour that all crew had been picked up by a Norwegian vessel.  What Norwegian vessel?  No, it was a German ship. Extensive resources uncovered the ship and they had picked up from a different ship altogether. Still no word on the Naronic.

At a new rumour of rescued crew, the Yorkshire Evening Post concluded on 20th March:

Much excitement exists among the relatives of the crew, many of whom belonged to Liverpool, and news is awaited with painful anxiety.

What could it have been like for 19 year old Lizzie Butler?  Did she continue in her tedious employment, wrapping boiled sweets individually into cellophane paper? A job like that allows too much time to think.  Perhaps the girls were excused work to wait with their mother,  but the ugly matter of finances would have been a terrible stress. Without Laurence’s five pounds a week – plus the extra from his new job – how were they surviving?

Stories grew wilder and wilder. A dynamite plot where explosives had been smuggled on board. A hijack.  A message in a bottle signed by one John Olsen was apparently discovered a long way away stating that the ship had been struck by an iceberg and was sinking. However, there was nobody by that name on board so the letter was believed fake.

Finally on 20th March came the inevitable conclusion:

Vessels arriving at British and American ports having seen nothing of the missing steamer Naronic, and the vessel being now long past due, all hope of her safety has been abandoned. Considering the great traffic on the Atlantic, and the capacity of modern ships to and float for a time at least after receiving even somewhat serious damage by collision, it is surprising that the Naronic should have disappeared without any definite trace being left as to her fate. The chances are, however, that her loss has been due not to any instability or inherent defect of the vessel, but to an explosion among the cargo.

York Herald 29 March 1893 page 4

Life changed now for the family. They were not alone – in fact, it seems that they found themselves strongly supported by their maritime companions in Merseyside, as happens in all seafarer communities. One of their supports was young Robert Heron, a mariner who was perhaps already very close to the family.

On 17th June 1894 Harriet Butler, eldest daughter of Laurence and Mary, married Robert Heron in Liverpool.  Robert’s occupation was given as mariner.  Elizabeth Butler – still known as Lizzie – was one of the witnesses.

Portion of marriage record of Robert Heron and Harriet Butler, showing my great grandmother as a witness. Liverpool Record Office; Liverpool, England; Reference Number: 283-PET-3-109

The Butler family remained close despite Harriet’s marriage. Two children were born to Robert and Harriet – Marion in 1895 and Robert junior in 1898.

It was at about this time that the above photograph of Elizabeth was taken.  Elizabeth had a great love of theatre and theatrical productions.  She was also an accomplished dressmaker, though she is never recorded as one. She made the dress that she is wearing in that photograph.  The family also has many photographs of costumes that she made in later years.  She was also an excellent dancer and very light on her feet.

There can’t have been any money in dressmaking, since she is always recorded as a confectioner’s assistant.

The 1901 census shows a whole new family structure for my Elizabeth.

Robert Heron 31 Head Telegraph Wire Mender born Liverpool married
Harriet Heron 31 Wife born N. Wales, Ruabon married
Marion Heron 6 daughter born Liverpool single
Robert E Heron 3 son born Liverpool single
Elizabeth Butler 26 sister in law Confectionery worker born Liverpool single
Sarah Butler 28 sister in law Confecionery worker born N. Wales, Ruabon single

I’m not sure what happened to Mary.  She may have died. She may have been living with Thomas who I also haven’t located.

With the benefit of family stories and a knowledge of Elizabeth’s movements in later years, I have been able to track her in each census.  But as the others drop away from her immediate vicinity I lose sight of them. I have no idea where James or Thomas are in 1901, and this is the last record I have of Harriet or Sarah.

To conclude this post, on 17 Jun 1905 at the church of St Chrysostom, Lancashire, England, Elizabeth Butler was married to a police officer named Thomas Maitland.  Elizabeth was a confectioner’s assistant.  It is on Elizabeth’s marriage certificate that we find her father’s full name – Lawrence Cecil Butler, ship’s steward. I think she may have built up his status a little. When the Naronic went down he was employed as a greaser.

Thomas Maitland in 1905 was a stable, responsible man who looked very professional in his policeman’s uniform.  We know from later years that he was hugely supportive of Elizabeth’s dressmaking and her involvement with society theatre.

The couple emigrated to Australia and lived for many years.







William Burleton 1783-1842 – The Pride Before the Fall

Farmland at East Harptree
East Harptree in Somerset England, the ancestral region of the Burletons and Wookeys

William strikes me as a sort of tragic character.  He could have been the most illustrious of his family.  I’m willing to bet that was his intention. His ambitions might have been realized had he lived just forty years earlier before the industrial revolution really kicked off.  Large scale manufacture swept the rug from under William’s feet just as he risked all of his family’s wealth in one massive business speculation.  With the failure of that business, he lost almost everything – his wealth, his home, the respect of his neighbours, the support of his extended family and we can’t know for sure, but he probably also lost the trust of his immediate family, his wife and children.

It was going to happen to the family anyway – the industrial revolution was very tough on provincial yeomen who were not placed to take on the hard nosed role of factory or franchise owner.  There wasn’t much call for that in the isolated central regions of Somerset in England.  The outside world was still passing these people by.  They were a step back in time, living by rules which had ceased to apply in most of England by the turn of the 19th century.  But though with hindsight we know that it was probably going to happen – at the time, it all looked like the fault of William Burleton, eldest son and heir to a moderate but sufficient livelihood built up by the generations before him.

Flour Mill Equipment

William was baptised on 25 Dec 1783 at East Harptree, Somersetshire, the eldest known son of John Burleton and Sarah Butler.  He had two elder sisters, Elizabeth and Ann.  There is room for another child between the two girls but no more records have been found.

Both of his parents came from yeomen families.  John Burleton’s father was a Burleton of Motcombe, Dorset, a family who had owned land there for generations.  John’s wife Sarah was a Butler from Witham Friary.  They and their relatives were local magistrates, church wardens and large scale benefactors of local charities.  Their credit was good, their standing was very good.  William was born into a world of advantage.

I have found no records regarding their education, but the children all reached adulthood with the ability to read and do accounts, even the girls which was not always the case in those years.  After William came Robert, Joseph, Sarah and John. (There is a slight discrepancy in John’s records, he may have been older).

He reached adulthood without entering into any official record and became a miller and dealer in meal.

Church of St Margaret at Hinton Blewett By Rodw [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, from Wikimedia Commons . No changes made.
William married Elizabeth Dudden at St Margaret’s in Hinton Blewitt, Somerset on 18th June 1807.

For years, I had the wrong Elizabeth Dudden.  There were two and they were second cousins.  I thought he had married the daughter of Parsons Dudden who was born in 1788.  It turns out he married the daughter of George Dudden who was born in 1784.

Which is the first indication, really, that William was headstrong and that he lacked the conservative practicality of his family.

It’s the reason I hit on the wrong Elizabeth.  The Duddens were yeomen of the past. By 1800 most of them were struggling labourers but with a few lines of descent which held on to small properties and local prestige.  Parsons Dudden was one of those. George Dudden was not. It made perfect economic sense that a Burleton would marry a daughter of Parsons Dudden.  But he married the daughter of George.

Chew Magna, the home of Elizabeth Dudden’s mother Mary. By Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK (St Andrew’s Church, Chew Magna, Somerset) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Not that I wish to denigrate George and his family. They were honest hardworking folk as far as I can tell. But they were landless labourers and Elizabeth made a startlingly good marriage, in the Jane Austin sense.  I have a feeling she must have been very pretty.

The comparison to the Bennett girls of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ can be taken further, though this family was in a different social sphere entirely.  Elizabeth Dudden was the daughter of George Dudden and Mary Harvey.  George was from the less successful branch of a respectable Dudden family – admittedly a surname which only had meaning in the highlands of Somerset – while Mary Harvey was a girl from a labouring family.  At the marriage of George and Mary, he signed the register while she marked with an ‘X’.  What she was able to teach her daughter about good household management and the dull, self-important world of respectable yeomanry is uncertain.

So Mary had made a good marriage by uniting herself with George Dudden, and Elizabeth then made a good marriage by uniting with William Burleton – which brings us back to William himself.

The marriage record is in the name of William Burlington.


William Burlington and Elizabeth Dudden, both of this parish, were married in this Church by Banns this Eighteenth day of June in the Year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seven by me, Hugh Lewis, Curate.

This marriage was solemnized between Us :

William Burleton (signed his name as Burleton)

Elizabeth Dudden (signed her name)

In the presence of Samuel Hand and Hester Lewis.

They became the parents of a large family:

William 19 Apr 1809 Hinton Blewett
Eliza 01 Jul 1810 Hinton Blewett
Sarah 17 May 1812 Litton
Francis 31 Jul 1814 Litton
Elizabeth 30 May 1816 Litton
William 19 Jul 1818 Chewton Mendip
George 6 Jan 1820 Chewton Mendip
John 4 Oct 1821 Chewton Mendip
Robert 1 Dec 1823 Chewton Mendip
Eliza 13 Sep 1824 Chewton Mendip

It was in Litton that William made the mistake which changed the whole course of his life.

On his own land, William built a brand new flour mill, putting himself into debt with the expectation that the business would prosper and enable him to pay back the money. He built the finest mill that he could, filled with new equipment. Litton was very proud of it.

Litton in Somerset

With the benefit of hindsight, the first indication of financial trouble appeared in 1815 with a notice in the Bath Chronicle (1):


TO be LET, in the parish of LITTON near Chewton-Mendip, for one year, five or seven and entered upon at Lady Day next, a New-built and Well-accustomed WATER GRIST-MILL, working two pair of stones together, adjoining with a neat Dwelling-house, Bake-house, two Gardens, large Orchard, barns, stables, pig-houses, and all other offices, suitable for any respectable person who wishes to enter into the Meal and Baking business – for a view of the premises apply to Mr Wm Burleton, the proprietor, of Litton aforesaid.

The notice reappeared in the Bath chronicle in September 1816 in almost identical words.

Another notice appeared in the Bristol Mirror in 1820:


TO be SOLD by Private Contract, with immediate possession, a newly-erected FLOUR MILL, called Litton Mill, working two pair of Stones; with a good substantial DWELLING HOUSE, Bake-house, Barn, Stable, and other Outhouses, Gardens and Orchard adjoining; situate at LITTON near Chewton-Mendip, in the county of Somerset; distant from Wells 6 miles, Shepton-Mallet 7 miles, and Bristol 13 miles.

The above Premises are part of the Manor of Litton, and held by Copy of Court Toll for three young healthy lives.

For further particulars, and to treat for the purchase, apply to Mr WILLIAM BURLETON, of Chewton-Mendip, or to Mr DOWLING, Solicitor, Chew-Magna.

N.B. If the above Premises are not sold before the 1st of May, the same will be then to be Let. (2)

In 1823, William’s eldest daughter Eliza died at the age of thirteen. Her cause of death is not known. It must have added to an already troubled time for the family.

family scene 1826
Scene of family from ‘The Fairchild Family’ by Mrs Sherwood, 1826 edition.

A further notice in the Bristol Mirror in 1824 for the sale of a property belonging to William Burleton.


On MONDAY NEXT, the 12th day of January, at the Mitre Inn, WELLS, at five o’clock in the afternoon, (unless in the meantime disposed of by Private Contract).

A COMPACT FARM,consisting of Five Closes of Arable and Pasture Land, adjoining each other, containing together 105 Acres (more or less), situate on MENDIP, near Green Ore Farm, in the parish of St. Cuthbert, Wells, near the turnpike road, and adjoining lands of John Davis and Edward Tuson, Esquires.

Of the above Premises, 74A. 3R. 24P. are held by lease, under the Bishop of Bath and Wells, for three lives; and the Residue is Freehold.

There is a good Limekiln and an excellent Spring of Water on the Freehold part of the Premises, which abound with Limestone and Stone for Building.

N.B. The above Premises, if not sold, will be to be LET.

For a view of the Premises, apply to Mr. William Burleton, Chewton-Mendip, and for further particulars, and to treat by Private Contract, to Messrs DOWLING AND MARSHALL, solicitors, Chew-Magna. (3)

It all came to a head in 1826.  A  suspicion of mine is that William’s creditors were assuming that he would inherit from the estate of his very elderly father.  John Burleton was almost forty at the time of William’s birth.  Now he was about to turn eighty and was probably ailing.  But at John’s death in November 1825, his property – Eastwood in East Harptree – was left to his second son Robert, skipping over the elder William.

The family probably knew more about William’s character than we can deduce today through the records.  The creditors waited no longer. It was game over for William Burleton.



W. Burleton, Litton, Somersetshire, mealman (4)

Landscape around Monmouthshire. Public Domain photograph.

There was something of a rift within the family from this point.  Whether it was William removing himself from them or vice versa is unclear.  William’s brother Robert – a highly responsible, sensible, solid chip off the old block if ever there was one – rendered assistance to the family by taking Joseph and Francis under his employ.  Looking at the generations ahead, this was something we can be very grateful for. But it probably didn’t feel like much to William.

William and the rest of his family moved to Monmouthshire.  Two children – William and Eliza – were deceased.  Joseph and Francis stayed in Somerset.  The other seven went to Monmouthshire with their parents.

Maybe there was family there that I haven’t discovered. Maybe they just got the hell out of the home town with its pity and recriminations and sideways glances and memories.  Perhaps Monmouthshire seemed like the place for a new beginning where nobody knew them.  Perhaps it was brother Robert’s doing.

William took employment at a country mill, working for a Mr John James.  It was a chance for a new start – not easy for a man in his forties who until now had had all the luxuries and conveniences that he could desire.

But at least he had a fresh beginning and he still had his family.  Perhaps it wasn’t game over after all.

Story of William continues here.

    1. ‘SOMERSET’,Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 23 November 1815 p.3
    1. TO MILLERS AND BAKERS, The Bristol Mirror 15 Apr 1820 p.1
    2. ‘TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION’, The Bristol Mirror 10 January 1824 p.1
  1. ‘BANKRUPTS FROM THE LONDON GAZETTE’, The Caledonian Mercury 25 Sep 1826, p6