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The following information was kindly supplied by Shirley McLeod ....... Compiled from a lecture paper she presented. The information is derived from excerpts of a 50 page booklet "The Tragic Story of Gilbert Smith" written by Dororthy & Les Woodhouse
GILBERT SMITH My Great, Great, Great, Grandfather
This is the story of my great, great, great, grandfather Gilbert Smith. I am indebted to my cousin Dorothy,
nee Hunt, and her husband Les Woodhouse, who have done so much research into our family over a period of many years, and are always so generous in sharing their knowledge with others. It is really mostly their story, as much of it is taken from their booklet " The Tragic Story of Gilbert Smith ".
His story is indeed a tragic one. Gilbert Smith, one of my maternal great, great, great grandfathers was
born at Tyldsley, which is near Leigh in the County of Lancashire, England. His birth date is uncertain but he was baptised on 14th February 1790, and the baptism was recorded at Manchester Cathedral, where christenings from many nearby Parish churches were recorded. His parents were Gilbert Snr, who was in the army, and a Margaret Smith, both of whom were from Tyldsley.
On 1st Jan 1811, Gilbert Jnr married Sarah Hunter at Leigh. Sarah was the daughter of James and Sarah
Hunter and she had been born on 20th May 1790, three months after Gilbert's birth, also in Lancashire.
On 1st April 1813, the year before the war ended in Spain, Gilbert had joined the 48th Regiment of Foot
(Northamptonshire), and had served in the Peninsular War. He was wounded at Toulouse, in the south of France, in the last stages of the campaign, although the extent of the injuries is not known. It is also possible that he may have been conscripted into the army.
The war with France over, and Napoleon being gaoled on St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, Gilbert 's
Regiment was then sent to Dublin, and he remained there as paymaster until 1816 on a pay of 1/10d a day. His brother James, also a sergeant in the 48th Regiment, was there as well, and served under Charles Fitzroy, who later, in 1846, was to become our Governor. Fitzroy had obtained a commission as Lieutenant in the horse Guards when he was only 16, and was a staff officer at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. His wife was to be tragically killed in Parramatta Park in 1847 when she and her husband were on their way to attend a wedding. The carriage overturned and the A.D.C. Lieutenant Chester Masters, was also killed. Fitzroy himself was injured. There is a very interesting full account of the funeral in the book, "The Parramatta Cemeteries-St Johns"'by Judith Dunn, which she compiled for the Parramatta District Historical Society. Incidentally it is believed that Lady Fitzroy's parents were so upset at the thought of her lying in a grave with someone other than her husband, although he was 30 years younger than she was, that they had the body exhumed, and sent to England in a zinc casket for burial there.
By 1817 Gilbert was placed in command of a detachment at Marlow in England, and later served in
recruiting at Worcester. The two battalions of the 48th Regiment in which he and his brother had served, had sustained heavy casualties in the PeninsularWar, and so were merged into a single battalion, three companies of which were sent to NSW in 1818. Gilbert and Sarah arrived in NSW, with the companies, on 30 April 1818, on the "Minerva". Their first child William was born on January 11th the next year, and died a few weeks later. His birth was registered at St Phillip's Church at Church Hill in Sydney, which at that time was located on land now known as Lang Park, opposite to where the church now stands. A daughter Sarah was born to Gilbert and Sarah on the 13th January the following year. She was also registered at St Phillips.
Gilbert left the army in 1820, two years after arriving in NSW, at the end of his seven year contract. His
discharge certificate shows details that he was 5ft 8inches tall, had brown hair, grey eyes and fresh complexion. His trade was shown as Weaver, which had been his work until his enlistment.
Back into civilian life, Gilbert then took a post in the Civil Service and served at the Commissariat in
Sydney in charge of the Grannery. The following year, as seen from an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette, he was living in York Street and selling English salt, furniture, calico, muslins, shirtings, loaf sugar, locks, prime Durham, mustard and candles. Ann Clifton, as their servant. Another son, their third child, John, was born to Gilbert and Sarah on 27 December 1821, that same year they arrived in Port Macquarie, and died 2 weeks later on 12 January. Young Sarah, the daughter who had been born in Sydney in 1820, died at the age of 3 and a half, on 31.10.1823. The reason for her death is not known. The graves of both the children are still to be seen on the headland in Port Macquarie. The original sandstone gravestone is hardly discernible and now forms the top of an altar grave which was built at a later date. It has a small plaque affixed on one side which was most likely placed there by the local Council or Historical Society at a later date. The plaque reads
"Sacred to the Memory of JOHN SMITH's
infant son of MR J. SMITH Commissional StorekeeperDied 12 Th Jan 1822:
Aged 16 days,
Also his only surviving child who after 4 days illness departed this life 31st Oct 1823:
Aged 3 years
Suffer little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven."
It is on elevated ground called Allman's Hill, above the entrance to the Hastings River, and overlooking the caravan park. The place had been the original cemetery, but only three graves remain out of an estimated 28 to have formerly existed.
Gilbert' s brother James, who was still in the 48th Regiment, and as mentioned before had served under
Lord Charles Fitzroy, came up from Sydney after the death of young Sarah, to console his brother Gilbert. The ship called in at Newcastle on the way and James became ill and died suddenly, leaving a wife and two children. More tragedy for Gilbert. At about this time Gilbert had sold two blocks of land in Parramatta, to his friend Robert Armstrong also from the 48th Regiment. Armstrong owned land facing George Street, and Gilbert's blocks were behind his in Macquarie Street. Charles, Macquarie, Smith and George Streets in the block now bound the land.
It is believed that the land was granted to the men when they left the army. Gilbert also owned two more
blocks opposite Roberts, on the north side of George Street, between Smith and Charles Streets.
Many years later my grandfather was to live in a beautiful old house named "Corio ", which was built on
some of these blocks and faced George Street. For a while Gilbert and his family were back in Sydney, and Gilbert was working at the Commissariat Department in Elizabeth Street. He was also on the jurors list. But by 1827 he and his family had returned to Port Macquarie and he had become the Assistant Commissary there. Whilst in Sydney another son, their fourth, and only living child, Gilbert Hunter Smith, was born in 1825, and was baptised at St James Church in King Street Sydney. He was to become my great, great, grandfather.
At Port Macquarie there had been a succession of Commandants, each with rules of their own. The
Reverend Thomas Hassall had been appointed the Chaplain there in 1824 but was transferred to Bathurst in 1827. He described Port Macquarie as being harsh and corrupt. On his leaving the settlement he transferred the farm that he had settled on there to Gilbert Smith for thirty pounds. Gilbert hoped that when the settlement was opened up to free settlers, he would be granted the property. It never eventuated however.
About this time some prisoners, who were acting constables, obtained keys to the store and were able to
access meats, grains, spirits and alcohol. There was to have been access only to free officers. Gilbert complained that there were discrepancies in the amounts of pork and other goods. He wrote to Commissary General Laidley in Sydney saying" From the local situation of stores at this place, and the facility with which false keys can be obtained, I have no doubt that robberies to a great amount have been committed." It appeared that 18 military men had been involved with the convicts in the robberies. On 20 November 1827, Gilbert's 5th child Charles was born. So from 5 children only Gilbert Jnr and the new baby Charles remained. Charles sadly was not to survive more than 16 months.
In 1828 the following year St Thomas Church of England, which is a well-known landmark in Port
Macquarie, and was built with convict labour, was opened. Captain Crotty, who had become an enemy of Gilbert Smith, was recalled to Sydney. Gilbert and Sarah and their two remaining children returned to Sydney permanently on the"Mary Elizabeth" on 26 Dec 1828. In February 1829 he leased a building in Castlereagh Street Sydney which had been known as "The Greyhound Inn"He renamed it"The Globe Tavern" . It was situated on the south eastern corner of Market and Castlereagh Streets, opposite to where David Jones store now operates. It was a two storeyed building. The ground floor contained 2 front rooms, 4 back rooms and a kitchen. The second floor had 8 rooms with grates and a store above. Also a 8 stall stable with a granary over, and a smaller one with 4 stalls, a coach house with a paved yard, walled in and good well water with a pump described as never being known to be dry. The rent was 175 pounds Sterling p.a.
His advertisement in then Sydney Gazette on March 12th1829 said: GLOBE TAVERN , Mr Gilbert Smith,
late of the Commissariat Department, begs to announce to his friends and the public, that he has opened that spacious House, late the residence of Mr Solicitor Rowe, in 256 Castlereagh Street, corner of Market Street, as a Tavern, where a choice Selection of the best Wines and Spirits will constantly be kept.Mr Smith has also made such Arrangements, as to afford superior Accommodation to respectable families, on their temporary residence in Town, to whose Comfort, both Mrs Smith and himself pledge themselves every attention will be paid. Brandy, Gin, Rum and Wines of every Description, etc of the best Quality and on cheap Terms, may always be had. Wholesale and Retail. ' Livery Stables. ' Also a Granary, sufficient to contain 2,000 bushels of grain, will be let reasonably.
The Sydney Monitor took up the cause of Gilbert Smith and James Bell, his assistant at Port Macquarie. It
frequently that they had been victimised by the Commandant, Captain Crotty, wrote assisted by the highly unpopular Governor Darling. It expressed the opinion that another Commission of Inquiry should be held in Sydney as, to use their words, or the parties wrongfully accused may be condemned, and the guilty exonerated. Much documentation was given in the articles in 1829.
Gilbert was defended about his so-called trafficking in pork and it stated that Captain Crotty himself owned
25 pigs, which were at Ballangarrie, 27 miles from the settlement. In the meantime came a very sad happening in Gilbert's life. On 18 March 1829, shortly after commencing business at the GlobeTavern the family was poisoned. The Monitor, on Monday 23rd March, describes it as such.
This Gentleman, late Store-keeper at Port Macquarie, took out a licence to enable him to resume those old Premises in Castlereagh Street known as "The Greyhound Inn" , kept so many years formerly by Robert Hazzard, and which was then one of the few good houses in Sydney."The Greyhound Inn" of course became once more the resort of strangers. On Wednesday last (18.3.1829) Mr Smith found himself ill. On Thursday about 12 or 1 o' clock, more of the family became ill, and in the Friday all the family, children servants and all. On Saturday the cook and one child died. Two other servants were taken to the Hospital. One female servant, who, with the deceased cook, her late husband, had been 5 years in Mr Smith's service, was delirious last night. A female servant just sent down from the factory was also very ill. Mr and Mrs Smith and the rest had recovered. Castor oil was used by all save Mr Smith.
Yesterday morning he took some powders which made him a new man. Feeling himself greatly recovered he went into the kitchen, and there saw a jar of flour, of the contents of which the servant was going to make a pudding. Had he done so, the sequel will show. that the whole family may have perished.
On the mouth of the jar, and as a temporary cover, lay a cloth, with a soft substance in the inside wisped round the top. Mr Smith, thinking it a singular sort of cover, opened it. He found in the inside open papers, on the surface of which lay arsenic and alum. He remembered the papers had been packed by himself in a little box in the store. He examined the store and found the box but it had been broken open and the contents were gone. The person who had taken all this trouble, in order to make a rough and incomm o dious stopper for the flour jar, must have untied all the papers, seeing that they had been carefully tied, and marked poison outside, by Mr Smith himself. It is supposed that a few grains of the arsenic occasionally fell out of this loose cover into the jar every time the flour was used, so that whenever the family took a meal, all hands were poisoned more or less.
Gilbert had used arsenic in the stuffing of birds, which was a popular pastime in those days. The cook who
was a William Oliver, and his wife Barbara died shortly afterwards, as did a servant girl. The child was Charles died , the 18-month-old son of Gilbert and his wife, who had been born at Port Macquarie. He was still being breast-fed and was poisoned through his mother's milk.
Dr McLeod and Surgeon Bland carried out the medical examination, and the inquest found that all had all
died of arsenic poisoning A verdict of accidental death was recorded, caused by the flour, which had been used to thicken their soup. They could were not able to lay blame. One Martin Wilson, a police constable who was present at the tavern after the poisoning, remarked that Captain Crotty, or one of his friends, had carried out the poisoning. He was charged with malice and dismissed from his position. Crotty returned to England later and died there in 1834.
November 1829, 8 months after the other deaths, Gilbert's wife Sarah died at the age of 39 as a result of
the poisoning, and her burial was registered at St James Church of England in Sydney. It is believed that the victims would have been buried in the Devonshire Street Cemetery, which , was later closed in 1901 to make way for Central Railway Station.
Gilbert left the business, as he was no longer able to carry on with the illness and subsequent death of Sarah. He was taken to Parramatta by boat in a very ill state. His army friend Robert Armstrong, to whom he had sold some of his property, and his wife Mary, looked after him and four year old Gilbert Jnr.
Gilbert Snr himself was affected by the poisoning, in that one of his hands slowly withered and rotted over a
period of time. He died at Parramatta in August the next year, 1830, at the age of only 40. He is buried at St John' s Cemetery here in Parramatta, the service being conducted by the Reverend Samuel Marsden. He was buried with full Masonic Honours. No tombstone can be found, but his burial is recorded against plot No 421 in the register.
The only surviving child of the family was 4 year old Gilbert Hunter Smith, my great, great, grandfather who
had been fortunate in going out with a servant girl, on the day of the poisoning. They had gone to watch some horse racing which was held at the present day Hyde Park. They had not had the soup, which had contained most of the poison. After his father died, Gilbert Jnr remained with Robert Armstrong and his wife, and as they had no children of their own, he inherited a substantial amount of property in Parramatta, and elsewhere when they died. He went to Victoria to the goldfields but it seems without much success. There he met and later married Eleanor Hickman, whose father was a hops grower in Tasmania. Eleanor was visiting Geelong with her mother. They moved to the home in Parramatta that the Armstrongs had left Gilbert Jnr., and later it was demolished and another replaced it. They named it "Corio" after Corio Bay near Geelong, where they married and spent their honeymoon.
They had three children, but one son died at the age of 18, and the other at 13. The only survivor was
Fanny Eliza Smith, my great grandmother, who inherited all the property that had been owned by both her grandfather Gilbert Smith Snr, and Robert Armstrong.
Fanny married Richard Hunt, grandson of the other Richard Hunt, a convict , and who had drowned with his
second family in 1852 in the Gundagai floods. My grandfather, Frank Richard Hunt was one of their 9 children. Fanny and her husband Richard Hunt are both buried in the Mays Hill Cemetery
on the Great Western Highway near Parramatta High School.
The beautiful home "Corio" was built on the land in George Street. I visited Corio when I was young and
my Aunt Verena, who never married, lived in it after the death of her parents. She later had it renovated, and made into two flats, which took away the charm of it. In the 60s she sold it to Metcalfe and Morris, and it was used as a funeral home. Later still it was demolished and a huge office block now stands in its place.
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Last revised: August 07, 2007.