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The story of George John Chidgey

This story is recounted by one of George's great-great-grandchildren; Patricia Braden.

George John Chidgey was born in Plumstead, England on 2nd February, 1815 to parents George Chidgey and Eliza Browning Grose.    However, while he was still a young teenager his father George died, and to make matters worse, his mother Eliza was also very sick and was very concerned about her six children becoming orphaned.   Therefore, Eliza wrote to her brother Joseph Hickey Grose in Sydney, Australia, asking if he could arrange (and probably pay) for her two eldest sons’ passage to Australia.

She had resolved that under the care of their uncle, who despite having been sent out as a convict, her two eldest boys (aged 14 and 16) would have the chance of a better life in Australia than as orphans in London.  

Sir William Wallace - BrigantineThe “Sir William Wallace” set sail from England about December, 1831 with George John and Joseph Thomas Chidgey on board.  This was a tiny wooden sailing vessel (a Brigantine) which was only 87 feet long by 25 foot wide (or 25 Mts x 7 Mtrs) (to put it into perspective, my kitchen / dining room is about 20 foot /6 mts long!).    There were about 50 passengers and 4 children on board, plus the crew; and merchandise which was for sale in Sydney.   It would have been very cramped with no escaping from the other passengers either day or night.  
What a frightening adventure for these two young boys, sailing alone into the unknown on such a small ship.   Imagine their terror when they encountered storms and high seas during their many months at sea.  

I wonder what they thought as they sailed into Sydney Harbour on 1st May 1832 (i)   They would have been unaware till nearly 12 months later that their mother had died on 21st August 1832 - just 3 months after their arrival here – and that their young siblings had been split up and farmed out to different extended family members. 
Sydney at the time was still a very small town, struggling to assert itself in its own right.  But they certainly had wonderful opportunities in this strange new land where our young lads found it so very different to their previous life in Plumstead.   
Their uncle Joseph Hickey Grose was by now a very successful business-man who not only owned property at Parramatta, but he also owned a new shipping company which plied the waters from Sydney to Newcastle (NSW).  He had faith in his nephew’s abilities, and paid the huge amount of 50 pounds in 1834 for George’s Indenture as an Apprentice carpenter, which was a 4 year agreement, during which time George had to live with his master and agree to many personal conditions, including not to drink, gamble nor to marry. (iii)

At the end of his apprenticeship in November, 1838, George John moved temporarily to the recently settled town of Melbourne where the building industry was booming.

Here he met and married twenty year old Margaret Carton who had recently arrived from Ireland.   Their marriage on 4th October, 1841 was at St. James Church of England, wherein he had reputedly assisted with the Carpentry. (iv) 

They moved back to Sydney and, whilst still working as a Carpenter, set up the first grocery shop in Balmain – where George John was granted the position of first Postmaster in Balmain (v). 

                The original Shop and Post office in Balmain, NSW.

As he was doing well in his new country he wrote to his now adult siblings in England, and convinced his sister and one of his brothers to immigrate to Australia, where they too prospered.  
George John and Margaret had nine sons and a daughter of their own, and although money was tight at times they appear to have had a happy marriage until sadly, just a few days after the birth and death of their last child in April 1861, Margaret died of dysentery. (vi)

Poor George John had lost the only woman he had loved and the adored mother of his children – five of whom were still under ten years old.   His only daughter, Eve, had turned just two years old that same week.  

In a marriage of convenience, he now wed Isabella (nee Jeffcott) Davis (a widow whom they seem to have already known), who had three small children of her own and was in need of a father and bread-winner.  

His final years were spent working as a builder whilst overseeing his sons who also worked in their Carpentry and joinery business.

George John Chidgey died on Christmas Eve, 1891 at his home in Beattie Street, Balmain.         He had never regretted his mother’s decision to send him to Australia where his own family had grown, married and reproduced.       At the time of his death, he had nine living children, 45 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.(vii)

His descendants have now spread right Australia and New Zealand and I am just one of his many Great, Great Grandchildren – who have grandchildren and great grandchildren of our own – all of whose origins began in Plumstead. 

                                By Patricia Braden, 2020.

(i)        The Sydney Monitor – 2nd May, 1832 – Page 3, Shipping Intelligence – Via Trove (National Archives Australia) – accessed 13/5/2020 by Patricia Braden.

(ii)       Image: Bunkers Hill, 1830 - Visit Sydney - Pocket Oz, Travel and Information Guide: http://www.visitsydneyaustralia.com.au/bunkers-hill.html

(iii)     Original Indenture Certificate donated to the Mitchell Library, Sydney by Miss Gladys Chidgey -1892.

(Iv)     The Chidgey Family History – The early Years in Australia, by Kevin and Elizabeth Chidgey. ISBN.0 9591282 0 4 –  Book in my possession.

(v)     Thornton and Sommerville, “Balmain” -1860-1935- History of Balmain.

(vi)     NSW Death Certificate No. 1273 – Margaret Chidgey (nee Carton) – 20/4/1861. (Copy in my possession).

(vii)    Sydney Morning Herald, 25th December, 1891 – Death Notices, Page 1

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