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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Family History: Henry and Elizabeth Trevithick

Henry Trevithick, was one of my maternal great-great grandfathers. He was born in Sithney in SW Cornwall on 4th August 1811. In Sithney he married Elizabeth Pascoe, who was born on 3rd December 1814 in nearby Helston. Henry and Elizabeth were married on 30 April 1836. Elizabeth gave birth to eleven children, one of whom was my great-grandmother Harriet.

The Google Map below shows Cornwall where the Trevithicks were born. Double click near the blue place indicator to zoom in. If you zoom enough you will see two blue place indicators, one for Sithney and the other for Helsotn. Click on each indicator for more information including pictures of Henry and Elizabeth in later life.

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The family migrated to Australia in the mid to late 1840s. There was a major emigration from Cornwall between 1946 and 1848 caused by potato blight and economic hardship. Henry’s family settled in Burra in South Australia. It is hardly surprising that this family of miners lived in Burra as it was one of the major mining centres in South Australia at the time. Copper had been discovered in 1845. The town began as a single company mining township that, by 1851, was a set of townships (company, private and government owned) collectively known as “The Burra”. The Burra mines supplied 89% of South Australia's and 5% of the world’s copper for 15 years, and the settlement has been credited (along with the mines at Kapunda) with saving the economy of the struggling new colony of South Australia.

From the beginning the township was a company town, built at low cost and with insufficient housing, which forced many miners to dig makeshift homes. In the census of 1851 over a third of the population were living along the creek and the Census compiler took time to note :

There are no houses, the swellings being excavated in the banks of the Burra creek.

The photograph shows some of these “homes”. Henry’s family initially lived in this type of primitive accommodation by the Burra creek.

It might have been the trying, frontier conditions of Burra that prompted Henry to look for “greener pastures”. Another possibility was the gold rushes in Victoria in the early and mid 1850s. He traveled on his own to Ballarat in Victoria. The family tradition goes that he was assisted by the aborigines; moving from “tribe to tribe” on his journey. Of the towns that he passed through in Victoria, he was particularly impressed with Avoca. With its Court, police station, gold wardens, churches, and schools it would have seemed a far more civilised place to live, earn an income and bring up a large family than Burra. He returned home to convince his family and friends to move to Avoca. He eventually took about 12 families with him to settle in Avoca.

The family had shifted to Avoca by 1854 as Henry Trevithick is mentioned in the Mount Alexander Mail(Castlemaine) of 13th October 1854. It seems that he was living in a “tent close to the police camp” in Avoca. My great-grandmother, Harriet, was born in there on 24th August 1857.

Henry made a living in the mines but quickly turned to other pursuits as well. He eventually owned two hotels, the Locomotive and the Commercial. The Locomotive was situated opposite the court building. A residential house now stands on the block. The Locomotive was probably not a large hotel, we cannot find a picture of it in the family records or in the Avoca records. It is described as “the house and premises known as the Locomotive Hotel” in a notice in the “Avoca Mail” of 1865. It seems that in that year Henry sold it to Joseph Henry Gawith. Henry also bought a fair amount of land in the town and owned shares in two of the large mines in the area. One of his money making ventures eventually led to a tragedy, in May 1859. Henry and a friend, Henry Knott, had a beer selling booth at the local race track.

The following is Henry’s testimony to the subsequent inquest:

I am a Publican residing at Avoca. Yesterday, I was driving the deceased home from the Race Course in my spring cart, he was not sober, the wheel went into a small rut in the road and the deceased fell out and pitched on his head. I did not fall out myself, the accident happened near the Park Hotel. I called out for assistance. Mr Holmes came to me and helped me to put the deceased in the cart. I then sent for a Doctor. The deceased was holding my arm as I drove along to keep himself steady in the cart. The deceased must have died instantly after he fell out, the hour was five o’clock.

Henry was probably “gilding the lily” as another witness claimed: “… I saw the deceased and last witness driving in a spring cart they were driving fast they were neither of them sober.”

It seems fairly clear from the Inquest that Henry was drunk and speeding in his cart. He was probably quite lucky not to be charged.

His friend, the deceased, Henry Knott had been another influential citizen who was also a member of the Avoca council. Not long before his death he gave some land to Avoca for a cemetery. His grave was one of the first in the new cemetery, and his wife had to pay 20 pounds for the grave site.

Henry made quite a success of his new life in Avoca. He was elected to the local council, and became quite well off financially. Not all of his financial ventures were necessarily successful. For instance, he owned a mine, for a while, and the family tradition is that he lost money in that venture.

On the other hand there is a report in the Avoca Mail, September 9th 1873, which states:

Many of our readers will be pleased to hear of a slice of good luck which occurred to Mr Henry Trevithick in his claim on the Deep Lead, on Saturday last, when a welcome nugget of about 30 oz was unearthed.

Certainly there is a family story that at times he lit his pipe with 5 pound notes.

Henry was obviously a “rough and tumble” sort of man, but late in his life he turned to matters of religion. My mother has his bible in her care.

He died in 1887 as described by the Avoca Free Press:

Another of the links binding the past to the rising generation has been severed by the death of Mr Henry Trevithick, long and favourably known in former years as the landlord of the Locomotive Hotel, opposite the Court House. Deceased, who was in the 77th year of his age, has suffered for some considerable time from a general breaking up of the system. The funeral, which took place on Wednesday afternoon, was numerously attended.


matt said...

Great piece! I spent a while researching Henry and Elizabeth because I thought they were my ancestors, however it was a bit of a mix-up and I'm descended from Thomas Trevithick and Elizabeth Candy who arrived in Vic directly from Cornwall about the time your Trevithicks came across from SA to Vic. I particularly enjoyed seeing the photos. If you have further info on this pair, or if you know whether 'your' Trevithicks have any connection to Truro/Kenwyn in Cornwall I'd be interested to hear about it. My contact email is cispt2@gmail.com

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