To the Goldfields- Edwin Gransden

This page is under extensive review and will be updated over the next few months with new research © Tina Bean 2014

The life of a crew member aboard ship in the 1850’s was an extremely harsh one. When Edwin Gransden reached Australia on the 12th of April 1855 it is probable that he was already considering leaving his ship when he reached NSW.

Edwin had been a sailor for at least 14 years when he arrived in Australia and would have experienced many of the wonders of the world in the 1850’s and some of the harshest working conditions of the times.

Sailors were usually hired just before each voyage with little guarantee of on-going work between voyages. Before each voyage mariners were given the opportunity to sign agreements that guaranteed conditions aboard ship however in reality most seamen were illiterate and it is doubtful that they fully understood what they were signing. Edwin Gransden was already a very experienced sailor by the 1850’s and was at least able to sign his own name so it is probable that he had reasonably accurate expectations of what a voyage to Australia was likely to be like. He also already had both a brother and sister living in Australia so he would have received accounts of their trips to Australia from the letters they no doubt sent back to family members in Australia once they arrived.

For deep-sea voyages like the one from England to Australia crewmen were paid monthly, on discharge, although if crewmen left the ship before they had worked out their contract they would often not receive any of their pay. In addition pay was given only after expenses incurred were taken out. It was common for sailors to get to the end of a voyage and find that they had little or no pay to be given to them.

Life on board was one of endless working shifts. Generally the crew was split into two shifts with one shift sailing the ship and the other shift engaged in routine maintenance. Even when there was nothing to maintain, crewmen were kept busy, in the belief that this would prevent them from being able to organise a mutiny.

Rations on board were unappetising and often very restrictive. The crew needed to be fed to keep them healthy for sailing the ship so they were often given better food than those who were travelling as passengers however this was usually barely adequate at best.

Crew men were given a pound and a half of beef every other day. This included the fat and bone and was usually salted or even rancid. Due to the length of time spent at sea it was rare for fresh fruit and vegetables to be available. This lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and poor quality of food could lead to scurvy, a debilitating illness that caused bruising on the skin, softening of gums and bleeding from all mucous membranes. Scurvy caused depression and people with advanced scurvy would often have ulcerating sores and teeth loss. In the 1700’s it had been discovered that scurvy could be treated by consuming citrus fruit, sauerkraut and some vinegars but many of the unethical shipping companies of the day refused to supply these to their crew even after legislation was introduced to force them to.

It was common for sailors to desert a ship with unfavourable conditions once the ship arrived in port. At this stage it is unknown if this is why Edwin left his ship the Washington Irving but only two short weeks after arriving in Sydney on the Washington Irving, Edwin Gransden married Maria Baker.

On his marriage certificate Edwin declared his usual residence to be in Cumberland County – Sydney area, in NSW. Edwin and Maria were married in St. Philips church in Sydney. Unfortunately no records of whether Edwin’s brother Robert Gransden or sister Mary Ann Russell nee Gransden were at the wedding. However it is likely that either before or just after Edwin and Maria married they either met up with Edwin’s family in either Bathurst or in Sydney. It is nice to think that Edwin took his new bride to the Bathurst area where he had 10 surviving nieces and nephews from the families of his brother and sister. Edwin must have heard a lot about these family members from letters that would have been sent to and from the families in England and Australia.

Little is known about Maria Baker other than that she was born in Suffolk England about 1823 and her father, George Baker was in the army. It is uncertain exactly when Maria arrived in Australia however it is probable that she was the Maria Baker who arrived on 26th of October 1839 aboard the Florist. Her occupation at the time was listed as house servant. Edwin and Maria were married by banns. In 1215 the calling of banns was introduced into England and Wales. This involved the public announcing of an impending wedding for three weeks leading up to the date of the wedding. This was to ensure that anyone who knew of an objection would have the chance to speak up. On the marriage certificate Edwin declared himself a widower and Maria was declared as a Spinster. As both Maria and Edwin were overage no one needed to sign for either of them. To date there is no indication of who Edwin’s earlier wife may have been and in what country he may have married her, although Maria at least believed that he had married his previous wife in England.

Both Maria and Edwin moved to Melbourne. From here it is very uncertain what happened to the couple but what is evident is that they split up. At the time of her death in 1890 Maria Gransden was living in Fitzroy Melbourne and her death certificate states that she is married to unknown Gransden with no children.

Melbourne in the 1850’s and 60’s was described by many as a disgusting city that could be smelled before it was seen. If coming aboard ship to Port Phillip new comers would be welcomed by the sight and smell of slaughter houses lining the river. The animals could be both seen and heard in their tiny pens with the remains of other animals tossed in with them for the pigs to eat. Blood and gore dripped into the river itself causing further stink and an unhealthy atmosphere. On the other side of the river were tanneries, tallow rendering plants, wool washers and other signs of industry. The smell of tallow being rendered alone would have caused considerable stink but when combined with the other industries the stench must have been incredible. Regular flooding helped to reduce some of the unpleasantness of the city but in-between the floods the city was often nick named Smelbourne.

Laws were put into place in an effort to try and keep the river clean but the increasing numbers entering the city on their way through to the gold fields found the city a rubbish dump. The city streets were lined with rubbish, dead and decaying animals and the litter continued to well outside the city limits.

South Melbourne was turned into a tent town for people on their way to the gold diggings. This is the town that Edwin and Maria would have come to. What it would have been like for Maria in her early to mid thirties to have been abandoned by her husband in a town like this one can only guess but it can not have been pleasant even if both parties were happy to separate.

Edwin Gransden on the other hand followed the gold diggers out of town and married Rebekah Elphink, daughter of James Elphink a baker and his wife Sarah Barker. Rebekah was born around 1830 in Leatherhead Surrey in England. It is probable that she came out to Australia with one or both her parents as a James Elphink signed her marriage certificate. This was probably either her father or a brother.

By the time Edwin arrived at the Victorian Gold Fields many of the more startling events of the times had already passed. The battle of the Eureka Stockade had occurred in 1854 and one wonders if this had inspired Edwin to make his way to the Victorian Goldfields in the hope of making his fortune and obtaining the kind of life he could only have dreamed about in England and even still in NSW.

Once Edwin had decided to go to the Goldmines the journey itself out to the fields would have been an adventure. The road was tough and very few could afford pack animals or carts to help them carry their stuff to the fields. Even if they could, food for animals was scarce and expensive so many animals died or were turned loose and left to fend for themselves along the way to the fields.

The diggers had to trek across a landscape that boasted no roads and often no signs of civilisation other than more diggers making their way across the same land, rivers and mountains to the diggings. The winding tracks through forests could be particularly hazardous, more so for those making their way back from the diggings then to the ones heading out to them. Attack on the road was common with many finding it more expedient to steal gold rather than to dig for it them-selves. It was common for groups of travellers to band together in an attempt to try and help each other avoid the dangers of highway men and cut throats.

It is unknown if Edwin ever did try his hand at gold mining as on his wedding certificate to Rebeckah Elphink he put his occupation as carpenter. Probably a more sensible occupation as it was more common for those who serviced the diggers through other businesses to make a good living and strike it rich, then it was for the diggers themselves to get enough gold to make their fortunes.

Edwin and Rebekah married in Franklinford on the 3rd of December 1861. Franklinford is a very small town near Dayelsford close to Ballarat and Castlemaine in Victoria. They were married by licence and Edwin claimed that he was a bachelor at the time. Edwin and Maria were not divorced and it is unlikely that Rebekah knew that Edwin had been married at least once before.

Currently this all that we know about the life of Edwin Gransden and his wives. Whether Edwin stayed for the rest of his life in Victoria is uncertain. There are no records of further marriages, births or deaths for Edwin and his family in either Victoria or NSW.


To the Goldfields- Edwin Gransden — 1 Comment

  1. Interesting information. We have found an Edwin James Gransden was adopted by a relation at Moonie River Qld. (b 1864 – 1938) in Queensland. Your Edwin is his father. I wondered why I could not find him on a ship – when he was crew. If you want more information you can email me.

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