LINDEN SHADBOLT – the child who stayed behind
The following is a continuation of my convict ancestors’ story The Exoneration of Solomon Shadbolt. The first piece was prompted by what I saw as an unfair representation of my three times great-grandfather, in the late Maurice Shadbolts’s memoir One of Ben’s. I have always been fascinated by family dynamics and I wondered what lay behind Maurice’s very negative view of ‘my lot’, ie; the Tasmanian Shadbolts This is what my research uncovered. The old family enmity no longer exists, but it’s an interesting story and I have tried to give an accurate and fair account of events.
Shortly after Solomon’s death at Tasmania’s Cascades probation prison in 1848 , my ancestor George and his cousins Jonathan and Ben Shadbolt were granted ticket-of leave status. Jonathan threatened to burn down his employer’s house and was soon back in gaol at infamous Port Arthur. Ben followed, spending two years in that awful place for stealing geese. My ancestor George did not re-offend and underwent a religious conversion, perhaps a reaction to his father’s death. He had been christened in the Anglican church back in Hertfordshire, but became a strict Methodist. He married a fellow ex-convict, Jane Whitton.
As I mentioned in my original piece, Jonathan eventually vanished to parts unknown and was never heard from again. Ben married Elizabeth, a free settler’s daughter and became a hawker. However, he was soon gaoled again for horse theft. He was finally granted a conditional pardon in 1858.
Perhaps hoping to make a clean start or ‘encouraged’, by George, he and a pregnant Elizabeth decided to try their luck in New Zealand. They left on March 4 1859 with their three children; Linden, now seven years old, and their two little girls aged four and two. Unfortunately the weather was so bad that after slopping about in the Tasman sea for a fortnight their leaking ship limped back to Tasmania. I suspect George’s heart sank at their reappearance, but before Ben could get into any more trouble the ship was repaired and they set off again.
Oddly enough, the decision was made to leave young Linden behind with his Uncle George and Aunt Jane. The child had suffered badly from sea sickness and was probably loathe to set foot on the ship again! Another point is that Ben had been in gaol for most of Linden’s life and George had become a father figure to his nephew. Presumably Linden was happy about the decision. It is difficult to believe he would have been left behind against his will.
The following year George and Jane moved north to an area known as Sassafras, with Linden and their own baby daughter. An idea of how forbidding the country was is contained in the book, Bush Life in Tasmania , by James Fenton; ‘…cold, damp, black, forbidding scrub, with huge, tall trees standing erect like a phalanx of warriors that were master of the situation, and seemed to say, ‘Hitherto, man, thou shalt come, but no further’. He confessed ; ‘…we always gave Sassafras a wide birth in the early days. There were tracks to the right of it, tracks to the left of it, tracks to the back of it, tracks to the front of it, but there lay Sassafras in its primeval solitude – a place to be avoided both by man and beast.’ But for George, who had felled and milled trees while a prisoner and who had gained blacksmithing and carpentry skills as a ticket-of-leave convict, it represented opportunity.
He cleared land for a farm and became a very successful blacksmith and wagon builder.
No doubt it gave him great satisfaction to pass his skills on to his nephew. Linden grew up in Sassafras, working in the family business. He married local girl Mary King in 1875. Shortly afterwards the newlyweds travelled to New Zealand. No doubt Linden wanted his wife to meet his parents, and hoped to re-establish a relationship with them himself.
I was unable to find out much about the couple’s stay in New Zealand. However, recently I came across an advertisement from The Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser. It was dated February 6 1877.
One would imagine that Linden enjoyed all the business from his father’s large stable of horses, and that the Shadbolt name was a huge positive for the forge. It had every chance of success, so I suspect it was more personal issues that caused trouble. Having been raised in the strict Wesleyn faith, Linden must have been shocked by his father’s flamboyant lifestyle. In turn, he and Mary were viewed as sanctimonious wowsers by their Kiwi relatives. By the end of 1877 the couple had returned to Sassafras. Linden took over the blacksmith and wheelwright business from his aging Uncle George. and Mary became the local postmistress.
Negative stories about Linden and Mary filtered down the generations. In his memoir, Maurice Shadbolt suggested that Linden tried to ‘touch’ Ben for a handout, and that subsequently he and the rest of the Tasmanian Shadbolts tried to hide their convict ancestry by pretending they were from unblemished New Zealand stock. I doubt if the handout story was correct, because Linden was a proud, hardworking man and an accomplished blacksmith. However, there is substance to the latter claim. Even today some of the Tasmanian Shadbolts insist they are descended from New Zealand free settlers.
Ben Shadbolt died on April 13th, 1882 after a full and varied life as ferry boat operator, saw miller, race horse owner , farmer, and hotel proprietor. He left a very considerable estate of £11,000 pounds. Four hundred people attended his funeral. A memorial poem appeared in the paper, and the following lines were clearly written by someone who knew their subject well;
He wasn’t a saint, God bless him! We liked him better for that.
In 1935, Linden’s eighty three year old widow Mary was interviewed for a local newspaper. She died a few weeks later, on December 9. Recalling those early days at Sassafras she said;
I was kept very busy – I baked bread twice a day, having at times 13 men to cook for, as well as my children and the post office to attend to. Never once were the boots left to be cleaned on Sundays! To go to church every Sabbath was the one and only outing I had throughout the week. I was too fully occupied to do otherwise.
Further in the interview she spoke about bushrangers and told an interesting story concerning Ben and Elizabeth Shadbolt, Linden’s parents.
Although the bushrangers never visited our house, they invaded the home of the parents of my late husband when he was about five years old. They demanded to be housed and fed for the night. Throughout the evening they nursed my late husband and told him stories. They also taught him to help them to make bullets!
On leaving next day, they ordered that no information be given as to their whereabouts. If disobeyed they would return and ‘settle’ my husband’s parents. About a quarter of an hour after their departure the police arrived, hot on their tracks.’
It is likely the bushrangers had imposed upon the hospitality of an old prison mate from infamous Port Arthur, and that this sobering experience contributed to Ben’s decision to leave Tasmania.
George Shadbolt also died in 1882. He (and later Linden) had played an important role in the transformation that took place in Sassafras. In January 1884 an article about the once forbidding area appeared in the Tasmanian Mail. Beneath the virgin forest and dense scrub my convict ancestor had discovered rich, chocolate soil:
‘… generally potato growing appears more like gardening than field cropping, acres and acres being in sight without a weed. The latter maybe said of wheat, oats, barley, and peas, hundreds of acres free of weeds. Besides grain and root-growing, cattle and sheep fattening receives much attention.’
George’s death was reported in the Devon Herald; The deceased was much respected in this neighbourhood, and his loss will be greatly felt by all who knew him, for he ever proved himself to be a good neighbour, and a kind friend to any who were worse off than himself.
In New Zealand, the memorial poem to his cousin Ben went on to say;
All I can say is, he loved his fellows,
And gave them a helping hand,
And the man who sincerely does so
Is as good as the best in the land.
The cousins were vastly different in personality, yet both succeeded financially after a terrible start in life. Far more importantly, two men who once robbed a widow in the middle of the night were remembered as good, kindhearted neighbours. I like to interpret this as a form of redemption for old Solomon Shadbolt, who died so far from home and who, I suspect, may never have been able to turn his life around.
POSTSCRIPT – The first Tasmanian Shadbolt to return to England was George’s grandson Arthur Singleton. He enlisted the day war was declared in August 1914. His battalion (the 12th) was one of the first ashore at Anzac Cove on April 25th 1915, and participated in the horrific Battle of Lone Pine. Arthur later served in the trenches in France. He spent a long period in a London hospital, where his injured shoulder was reconstructed, but probably had no idea that his grandfather had spent time in nearby Millbank prison. The above photo was taken in Egypt after he returned from Gallipoli. Not surprisingly he looks haunted, and years older than in the photo taken just before he went.
And here is a photo of his sister, my Grandmother Alice (daughter of George Shadbolt’s daughter Emma) Grandma had her faults but was as tough and spirited as all the Shadbolts. She was more like the Red Queen than Alice! What a character.
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