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
is that of the descendants of Gustavus Frizell who declared in a
published history of the family, 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 may have 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 and an overseer of
convicts at Port Macquarie 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.
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 for only 10 days after their 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.
The Frizells made their way to Port Macquarie,
sailing up the coast to the settlement struggling to overcome the stigma
of being a convict prison. 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
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