Edwin Blackwel

Part VII of An Australian Emigrant Family

Peter Blackwell, Ph.D. Brown University '88 (Rhode Island) and Mark Blackwell, B.Com. B.D. (Euroa, Victoria, Australia) [blackwell@upssystems.com]

After his father died of a heart attack a week after the drowning of elder brother, seventeen-year-old Edwin became responsible for the family farm, his 48-year-old mother, and his sister Anne. When he was eighteen, on May 4, 1870, in his mother's house, Edwin married Mary Dean, who was the same age and had lived on the farm next door. The Primitive Methodist minister, Mr. Palfreyman, conducted the ceremony which was witnessed by Edwin's sister, Annie, and Mary's brother, James. In September of the same year, James and Annie were married.

Edwin assumed his new responsibilities with diligence. He taught himself to read from the Bible. He introduced a plough for tilling the soil in place of the hand tools of the past and designed a pea harvesting machine. He also developed plans for a treadle-driven sewing machine which he tried unsuccessfully to patent in the United States, the plans mysteriously disappearing there. But with the disastrously low prices for most agricultural products, the farm could not provide sufficiently for the family and Edwin needed to supplement with other sources of income.

He became a dentist of some sorts and teeth were extracted in the barn. Once a person had committed themselves to having their teeth pulled, Edwin would not allow anybody to back out. A fine horseman, Edwin would be called on in the town to round up wild cattle. Legend has it that he once brought a bull under captivity by winding his whip round its tongue. He would ride until the horse was exhausted then on foot chase the cattle down. It is claimed that Edwin could charge double rates for farm laboring as he worked at double the speed. When he scythed, he could double the amount of others.

Three years after they were married, Edwin and Mary's first born son, Herbert, was born on May 14, 1873, and Arthur Byron was born two years after that. On Herbert's fourth birthday, May 14, 1877, both children became violently ill and died the next day. It was commonly believed that they had eaten poisonous mushrooms, although the inquest could only report that the children "did labor and languish under a grievous disease of the body to wit acute inflammation of the stomach and....did die but how such acute inflammation was caused there is no evidence to show".

Edwin and Mary had six more children over the years but Mary never really recovered from the loss of her babies. Edwin's loss was all the sadder when his sister, Caroline, died in September of 1877, reportedly from lung inflammation from becoming soaked through when driving cattle through wet grass. His mother, Anne Francis, who was to live until she was eighty-five, had already seen the death of her husband, two sons, her daughter and two grandchildren in the twenty years that she had been in the new land.

The inquest for the two children was held at the home Jonathan House and the jury included, in addition to House, William Margetts, Edwin's cousin. There was also a Robert Wigmore with four others and the coroner. People still recounted the amazing incident that had occurred in the House family over twenty years earlier and which also involved Robert Wigmore.


Postcolonial Web Australia Bibliography Contents Victorian Web