Updated: Sep 5, 2021
The Barras Boy
George Barras was one of the passengers on the ship "Caroline" who left Brompton-on-Swale in 1827 bound for Van Diemen's Land.
When he left the village and journeyed to Hull to embark for a new life on the other side of the world, he was a 19 year-old, inexperienced blacksmith. At that young age he may just have completed an apprenticeship, but that is by no means certain.
Left: The Traveller's Rest in the settlement of Houghton, Australia were George lived for a time in the 1840s.
We know that George's parents were
We can also see from the 1841 Census returns that the Barras family are living at at Fountains Head.
Eleanor, 65 at that time, is living with sons William and Thomas, both 25 (twins?), while her elder son Joseph (30) has a wife (Elizabeth) and 6 children. If we bear in mind, by 1841, George had left 14 years earlier, then he would have been the eldest of all (he was 33 in 1841).
It is also interesting that the Prest family are living at the next farm "High Gatherley" because William Prest, a 24 year old farm servant in 1827, was another Caroline passenger from Brompton-on-Swale. Eleanor Prest (aged 12) is a house servant at the Barras farm. So it looks very much like George Barras and William Prest knew each other well, being neighbours.
Its hard not to wonder what news these families had of their adventuring sons on the other side of the world.
Life in Van Diemen's Land
We know that George arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1829 and he would have had to complete his side of the bargain in return for his passage on the Caroline - his indentured service with the Van Diemen's Land Company (VDL Co). He seems to have completed that service by January 1831 - this would have been about 3 years after his arrival in February 1828.
Little is known of George’s life immediately after finishing his indenture but it seems that, along with other indentured servants who arrived on the Caroline, he left for Launceston either on the VDL Co owned schooner Friendship, or the barque Thomas Laurie (on its way to Hobart from London) at the end of January 1831.
It might have been a happy time, but less than a year later, the following advertisement appeared in the Launceston Advertiser.
No evidence has been found of either the birth or death of the mentioned child, but Jemima had earlier registered the birth of her son John Moulds on 27 Dec 1831 in Launceston. Was George bringing the child up as his own? Or was the child his? It is known that John Moulds became John Waddell, the name of the father listed on his birth record, and lived for some time with his former convict grandmother Margaret Waddell. Interestingly, the Waddells ran a blacksmithing business around the time George went to Launceston. Maybe George worked for them at some stage, and met Jemima through them?
The next thing we know for sure is that George boarded a wooden barque called the Parsee on 2 November 1838 in Hobart, bound for South Australia, and leaving Tasmania for good.
All did not go well! The Parsee ran aground off the heel of the Yorke Peninsula, in South Australia on 13 November 1838 on the. Troubridge Shoals and was wrecked. These shoals are shallow sand embankments surrounding Troubridge Island an unstable sand island which changes shape and size over time. The Southern Australian reported the events on 24 Nov 1838, asking the obvious questions as to how the wreck happened in fine weather and 70 miles off course ...
Sometime later Bent’s News and Tasmanian Register reported on 14 December 1838 (p.2) that:
So it seems that the passengers managed to get ashore on Toubridge Island, and a week(!) later, were rescued and taken to Port Adelaide on the Rapid. All except the unfortunate Mrs Boucher seem to have survived. It has been suggested that George Barras (named ‘George Burris’ in the newspaper article) was one of the two passengers who crossed the gulf to seek help (Sharon Burnell is still trying to verify this!).
Not much is known of what George was doing in South Australia before about 1842, but he probably remained in contact with the Reuben Chapman who was also shipwrecked on the Parsee as after Reuben died, Reuben’s widow Sarah Jane married a widower called Thomas Battersby, George’s future father-in-law.
The track was good so long as the ground was level. The sand at the foot of Teatree Gully was heavy hauling for our four bullocks, but as soon as we got fairly into Teatree Gully it was steep and sideling for the rest of the journey, but worse in the neighbourhood of Houghton than anywhere else …. In trying to cross the Chain of Ponds …we got bogged and had to leave everything until the morning,… A short time after this a man started to work as a blacksmith in the shell of an old hollow gumtree near the place where our axle broke and he worked there at his trade for years afterwards. The blacksmith’s name was George Barris [Barras}”
To give some concept of how someone could work from the shell of an old gumtree here is a picture from the 1880s of a "swagman" (a transient labourer) either camping in one or trading from one. George must have felt settled, as on 19 June 1843, he married Sarah Elizabeth Battersby in Holy Trinity Church Adelaide. It is probable that this made George a bigamist, as there is no evidence that he had divorced his first wife Jemima in Van Diemen’s Land, and she was still alive in 1843!
Geroge must have done reasonable well operating from his gumtree and the next we hear of George, is when he bought over 2 acres of land in June 1844 – lots 23, 24 and 25 in Houghton, paying £11 7s 6d for them ‘in cash’ (Memorial 448/3). In his pamphlet Historic Houghton, Graham Jaunay noted a thriving township:
During the 1840s, Houghton was an important settlement because it offered the only blacksmith and hotel between Walkerville and Chain of Ponds, as well as providing the only school, chapel, pub and butcher for a large area. This made it a popular place for travellers to stop, resulting in the improvement of the road that ran through the village from Adelaide to Chain of Ponds. The accessibility and popularity of the village led to the introduction of a postal service in 1848 that serviced the Little Para area. Later in the 1850s, local government for the district was established in Houghton.
The location of lot 24 is indicated in the photograph below (as well as lots 19, 20 and 21 which were bought at the same time George bought his land, by his father in law Thomas Battersby).
Lot 1 was where the Traveller’s Rest Hotel was located. An 1866 sketch of the Travellers Rest Hotel was included on the cover of the 1976 edition of historian Ian Auhl’s book From Settlement To City: A History of the District of Tea Tree Gully 1836-1976. George’s properties were to the left side of hotel, across the road.
It is sometimes difficult to find further evidence of George's life as often his name is misspelt. It is likely that the ‘George Batson’ and ‘Thomas Battersea’, both of Houghton, who reportedly signed a petition against the introduction of convicts into South Australia in February 1845 were actually George Barras and Thomas Battersby. With his first-hand experience working alongside convicts, George would at least have had some insight into the pitfalls of South Australia taking convicts on, and maybe even some moral concerns. Our intrepid Australian researcher, Sharon Burnell has been trying to track down the original petition to look at the signatures, but it seems to have not been saved.
The last evidence of George in Houghton Village is when he sold his properties there in June 1849 for the sum of £75 ‘of lawful money’ (Memorial 277/15). What he did with this substantial amount of money is not known, but It would appear that George and his family moved to Chain of Ponds, maybe even back to working out of the hollow in the gum tree previously mentioned by Flavel. We do know that when his daughter Mary Ann was baptised in December 1851 at St George’s Church in Gawler, he was still working as a blacksmith and living at Chain of Ponds.
After years of working in the hazardous occupation of a blacksmith, George became sick and in 1853, George applied for destitute assistance. According to admission records held at the South Australian State Records, he was then a blacksmith living in Franklin Street in the centre of Adelaide, and was ill with bronchitis. He had one child over 7 years (George Henry) and three under 7 years (Sarah Jane, John and Mary Ann). Sarah Jane was pregnant with a fifth child. As one of reputably less than twenty blacksmiths in Adelaide at the time, George would have been in demand for his skills, but his illness must have prevented him from working. George died on 11 July 1853 from consumption and was buried on 13 July 1853 in an unmarked grave in the West Terrace Cemetery. He was 45.
Continuing the lifelong misspelling of his surname, he was buried as ‘George Burras’.
We will never know what might have come of this, but the following advertisement appeared in the Adelaide Observer in 1858
"If GEORGE BARRAS, who arrived in Van Diemen's Land in the year 1828, per Caroline from Calcutta, and supposed to be in this colony, will apply to the undersigned, he will hear of something to his advantage; or parties having any knowledge of the whereabouts of the said George Barras, who is a native of Yorkshire, a blacksmith by trade, are requests to communicate with the undersigned" FRED FISHER, Gilbert-place
Would this have been news from Yorkshire or Tasmania? Would it have alleviated the family’s poverty? Or was it a creditor trying to track him down? We know George had been deceased for 5 years at this point, but the notice remains a mystery!
Sadly, George’s daughters Mary Ann and Christiana Amelia (born after his death) both died early in 1854.
His widow Sarah Elizabeth subsequently married a young sawyer called Daniel Abbott Jr on 23 September 1854, who after times of hardship and several more children, lived a long and happy life, dying in 1906 in Kenton Valley, South Australia.
His daughter, Sarah Jane Barras married twice, dying in Williamstown, South Australia in 1934. Her second husband was baker called Bernhardt Schmidt. Sarah and Bernhardt are the great, great grandparents of Sharon Burnell, who now lives in Brompton, Adelaide and who first prompted this series of articles by contacting this web site. George Barras was Sharon's great, great, great grandfather.
NOTE: If any Barras descendent wants to get in touch with Sharon, please email her at email@example.com
Links to Previous Articles in this Series
NOTE: Please feel free to add your comments and questions to the blog - scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of the page.
[Source: Original research by Sharon Burnell and Peter Hodgson] [Source: The Voyage of the Caroline by Rosalie Hare 1827-1828]
[Source: National Library of Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/] [Source: http://www.jaunay.com/ - Graham Jaunay web site] [Source: From Settlement To City: A History of the District of Tea Tree Gully 1836-1976 by Ian Auhl]