Wednesday 20 May 2015

The Aldridge Family - what was the true story?

Local Historian Tom Ryan has a keen interest in the Aldridge family

Our Local History talks were lucky enough to be visited by the ex-national park character and local Tom Ryan. He started his talk off by entertaining us with rambunctious stories of his long career in national parks which began in Ravensbourne in 1962. Tom is a great story teller and had everybody laughing.

Tom kept the audience laughing

The main reason Tom was invited to talk was his research on the life and times of some members of the Aldridge family. Tom has spent time trawling through conflicting information about this well-known Maryborough family.  

Have you ever wondered about this family and their connection to Baddow House?

Tom’s interest in the Aldridge Family has highlighted many false stories. Edgar Aldridge was definitely a character and in Tom’s opinion a magnet for trouble, having been to court at least 10 times. This is what Tom’s research of Barbara Anson’s unpublished material and Family History Research documents has revealed.

It is uncertain where Edgar Thomas Aldridge was born. Some records say Little Baddow and some say Great Baddow. The Aldridge home was about half way between the two districts, so he could have been born in either. An Essex census from about 1800 lists his father, Joseph Aldridge as a Cooper and Brewer and Swine Keeper. Edgar’s mother was Mary Nee Dyne and her family lived in Great Baddow.

Edgar was the 5th son and 9th child of Joseph and Mary. It seems that he and his brothers all received a good education. One brother became an Anglican bishop and another was an executive in the bank of England in India.

Nothing is known of Edgar’s early life.

Do you know anything about this part of his life?

The first record found of Edgar’s early life is in 1836 when he arrived in Adelaide on the ‘Melrose’. Although yet to be verified, it is probable that Edgar owned or had an interest in that ship.

What Tom has discovered is that in 1840, he and the Melrose were back in Sydney before he sailed into the Pacific, where the ship ran aground. Edgar was rescued and returned to Sydney. His world Atlas on which he marked his routes around the world has survived. Some of his descendants believe he was the captain of the Melrose.

Did he own the Melrose?

Did he Captain the ship?

What do you think?

Tom also found that he met Enoch Rudder and went to the Macleay River Settlement of Kempsey. Edgar’s Grand-daughter wrote several versions of the Aldridge Story. She wrote information in these stories that were not true, beginning what seems to be a pattern of misinformation about Edgar Aldridge and his family.

Tom Ryan received a grant to have research carried out in England on Maria Sarah who became Edgar Aldridge’s wife. She was born in New Street, Birmingham in 1820.  Her birth surname has not been found. A branch of Maria’s family owned Toogoom for a time and lived near Maryborough. Maria’s mother was a young teenager. The child Maria was placed in a church owned home for abandoned children where she received at least a basic education. At twelve she was considered to be of working age, so when Maria reached that age she had to leave.

Can you imagine having to fend for yourself at twelve?

Luckily for Maria she came upon an old man who made his living selling buttons on the street. He took pity on her and looked after her in his shed on the derelict wharves. His name was Steele and Maria became known as Maria Sarah Steele.  It seems she had a tough life. When aged no more than seventeen years she was charged and found guilty of stealing two tubs (bags of coal) and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. At the age of 19 she arrived on the ‘Majestic’ in 1839. 

In 1845 Maria gained her ticket of leave and she left her convict husband Slater and with her son Frederick, she moved to Kempsey when she was employed as a housekeeper by Edgar Aldridge. The arrangement grew into something more serious and they lived as man and wife. Maria gave birth to their daughter Maria Rachel.  They moved to Sydney. In 1847, Edgar took the pregnant Maria back to Kempsey where she lived with the family of Enoch Rudder junior.  Edgar with Enoch, Fitzgerald and Meyer left Kempsey to look for land in the unexplored North. They intended to follow the blazed trail made by the Archer brothers who passed through the Burnett Region on their way Northwards. While resting their animals at Marodian, they met the Palmer brothers who were also searching for land to select. After learning of the shipping problems facing inland squatters, they decided to head for the Wide Bay River where George Furber’s Wharf stood on the river’s difficult to reach South Bank.

Aldridge, Rudder, Richard Palmer and Fitzgerald were guided to the river by an Aborigine described in some historical books, as one of the area’s most savage warriors. His is named One Toe Tommy in early historical publications, however his real name was Wontamany.  His association with the white man caused him to be scorned by fellow tribesman. Some years later he was bashed and tied onto a meat ant’s nest. Edgar Aldridge found him in this predicament and took him to Maria who nursed him back to health. In the 1870’s Edgar’s right hand man was the Aborigine Jimmy Aldridge.

Was he Wontamany?

The Aldridge party arrived at Northern bank of the Wide Bay River on the 4th April, 1848. Suitably impressed, they returned with their livestock.

Aldridge wrote a few lines in a letter to a brother in England about the Wide Bay. He said:

The Giant Trees would have to be burnt out of the ground

Scrub along the river flat was dense with many giant trees

He had settled at the eastern end of the ridge and Henry Palmer 750 yards away at the other end

Already seven bales of fleece were waiting for a ship

Within a short time, Edgar had built his Victoria Bush Inn and a wool store – four posts in the ground with bark forming a roof.

Around 1849, his application to purchase 500 acres of land in the Wide Bay was rejected. Shortly after he took over the operation of the post office from Henry Palmer.

Harry Edgar Aldridge was born in Kempsey about this time and Edgar Aldridge and Maria Slater were married in Edgar’s house in Clarence Street, Sydney. They went to the Wide Bay Village where they lived in the cramped Bush Inn. In 1850, another son, Joey, was born but died when he was still a baby and was buried on the knoll near where Baddow House stands today.

In 1852, land sales were held for the new village further down the river and despite his support for the existing village, Edgar was by far the largest buyer and his eventual portfolio of land and buildings would be the largest in the history of Maryborough. During his business life he was the owner of 99 town allotments, totalling 373 acres. He had 46 tenants including Horsborough, Fairlie, Sheridan, Purser, Booker, Goodwin, Travis and Penfold.

He sold his Bush Inn at Wide Bay Village and built his new Bush Inn in Kent Street. Even though his business ventures were all in the new village, he never left Baddow and referred to the village site as Baddow in the 1860’s.

Edgar Aldridge served a term in council. It was his support of the Chinaman Chiam that is best remembered. Chiam caused utter chaos in the council meetings when he refused to speak English.

 After the 1864 floods when he believed he was seriously ill, Edgar transferred nearly all of his properties into Maria’s name. He retired and travelled to England. His nephew Fred Bryant was appointed to manage the properties.

Following his return to Maryborough, Edgar retired from public life in 1870. In about 1882, he contracted Fritz Kinne to build the new Baddow house but despite persistent rumours, it was not similar to the Essex Baddow House.

Did you know there were two Baddow Houses?

The construction of Baddow House began in 1883. It contains 26600 bricks; it has flush toilets and underground water storage tanks. Maria Aldridge spent her last years in bad health and she lived with son Harry at Booral. Briefly, Harry and an un-named Aboriginal girl were the parents of Jessie. Harry then became involved with another Aboriginal girl, Lappy. They were married in New Zealand and had four children.

Edgar Aldridge died in his sleep in Baddow House on the Friday the 18th May, 1888. His remains left his home at 4pm the next day for internment in the family vault. His estate included 3000 pounds cash. Harry inherited the Aldridge properties. Within two decades he lost the lot, partially due to poor advice from businessman Piggy Williams. In 1912, Bank of New South Wales sold Baddow House to the Stilers.

Two Aldridge generations lived in Baddow House. Edgar and Harry both died in their sleep there.

The Stilers removed Baddow House’s verandas and sold the ornate cast iron and the Brooweena sawmill bought the crows ash flooring. This was destroyed in a fire.

When the Stilers removed the Aldridge gardens, the litter was piled up and burnt at the base of an old Canary Island palm in front of the house. Despite this, the palm regrew. Tom thinks this is a demonstration of the spirit of Edgar Thomas Aldridge. 

What do you think?

Audience members were all ages

Publication has consent of Tom Ryan. Tom Ryan has collated this information from Family History Research, Birmingham England documents and unpublished material belonging to Great Granddaughter of Edgar Aldridge, Barbara Anson.

Tags:#Maryborough #Maryboroughlibrary #Frasercoastlibraries #Qldheritagetourism


Phillipa said...

Very, very interesting.

Great to be able to be involved from afar.

I visited Baddow House last year and was very impressed- beautiful setting. It was great finding out the history because this wasn't available at the house.

Shirley Dawn said...

What a lot of interesting information about the Aldridge family. Thank-you Tom, I have learnt a lot.

Leah Symons said...

Hi there, my dad's surname is Aldridge. This was fascinating to read, we are going to look at the family tree to see if we can find a link somewhere.