One of the tasks confronting every family
history researcher is reconciling family stories about their ancestors
with the reality of official records. Unfortunately, often the
record shows a much more mundane background than otherwise
acknowledged. One such example of this oh-so-human weakness
comes in the story of Gustavus Frizell where it's claimed that Gustavus
had been the captain of a ship which arrived in Australia from Ireland
in 1840. The story, as re-told over the years, was:
Gustavus Frizell had been a
ship's captain who landed at Adelaide in 1840, and moved from there to
Port Macquarie as an overseer of convicts. He was the son of John
Frizell, Esq, a gentleman of Dunmore, County Wexford, Ireland, with many
connections in the Royal Navy, the Indian service and the Church. At
this time he worked for the Taylor family at Terrible Vale.
Later he took up land of his own at Wakefield, Jeogla.
Some of that summary
is true, as far as we can find out. Gustavus was indeed the son of
a gentleman farmer in County Wexford who had connections with relatives
in the Royal Navy and the Church. And in Port Macquarie, he worked
for the Taylor family, before they moved up the New England tableland
where they established Terrible Vale near Uralla.
But being a captain of a ship is stretching
reality more than just a little. On the passenger manifest of the
Isabella, the ship on which he and his family travelled in 1840
as Bounty immigrants (i.e. government sponsored), Gustavus is described
as "a 30 year old farm servant", and his wife Frances as a
"housekeeper". The source of the "ship's captain" claim is not
Another interesting insight into the Frizell
family comes with the story of the Frizell forebears. One source
has written that only 50 or so years before Gustav was born, his
Scottish ancestors had been forced to flee Scotland, after the failure
of the Jacobite uprising in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.
The Frizells, said to be members of the Fraser clan, had been supporters
of the attempt to overturn the Hanover family on the British
throne. When the rebellion failed, they thought it wisest to leave
Scotland, taking refuge in southern Ireland. True or ??? 
. That will need much more research to decide.
Meanwhile, Gustavus and Frances brought two very
young children with them to Australia: John, who was two and a half, and
seven months old Elizabeth. Their life in Australia started badly
- young John lived only a few days after the family's arrival. The
cause of his death isn't known, and only his death and date of burial
are listed in the register of St Philip's, the oldest Anglican
church in Australia. It's probable he was buried in what was known
as the Sandhills cemetery, later called the Devonshire street
cemetery. Sixty years later, this cemetery was taken over, after
the removal of thousands of graves, to become the site of Sydney's
Central station. Many years later, in a letter to her second son
William, Elizabeth recounted the tale of John's death "within a day or
two of the arrival [while] Elizabeth was but a tiny babe".
The Frizells made their way to Port Macquarie,
sailing up the coast to the former penal settlement . Some convicts may
well have still been assigned to the Taylors' property just outside Port
Macquarie at Rollands Plains, but Gustavus' and Frances' roles haven't
been clearly recorded.
While living and working at Rollands Plains, the
couple had two more children. In the mid 1840s, the Taylor family packed
and moved up into the tablelands to the north west of Port Macquarie, a
distance of some 200km over rough roads into the mountains.
The Frizells followed the Taylors to the Salisbury area south
of Armidale where the Taylors established the Terrible Vale
property. Gustavus worked there as a shepherd and three more children
were born to him and Frances. In 1857, Gustavus and Frances'
eldest daughter Elizabeth married John Davidson, a blacksmith, at Terrible
Within a few more years, the Frizell family branched out for themselves
into the productive sheep and cattle grazing lands of the New England,
establishing Wakefield at Jeogla, 60km east of Armidale.(from
the Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 25
Several of Frances and Gustavus children
including their youngest daughter, Isabella, continued to work the
property for several decades,. When 72 year old Gustavus
died in 1881 of dropsy (a chronic kidney disease), in his will he
nominated the land to go to his youngest son and namesake, Gustavus
Joseph, with the stock on the property left to daughter Isabella, with
his wife Frances (or Fannie, as she was known) getting what was left.
His other sons William and Richard were the executors of the
estate, so presumably it was an agreeable disposal of the estate as far
as the children were concerned. Frances continued to live on at
Wakefield, along with some of her children including Isabella. The
Wakefield estate continues to be operated by Frizells to this day
Frances outlived Gustavus by more than 20 years.
When she died in 1902, aged 92, the Armidale Express wrote that
she "spent a thoroughly blameless life, and was greatly esteemed in the
Jeogla district for her many good and excellent qualities, having reared
a highly respectable family." Daughter Isabella commemorated both her
parents (and two of her brothers who had also died) with
impressive tombstones in the Armidale cemetery. After her mother's
death, Isabella, at the late age of 55. married a local grazier, William