EXTRACTS FROM THE STORY OF ROBERT LANGFORD-SIDEBOTTOM (1811-1877)
By Don Sutherland
Robert Langford was the second youngest of Thomas Langford and Mary Sidebottomís sons and had married Martha Bennett of Glossop, Derbyshire in 1829 when he was just 18 years of age. By 1839 they had two children, James who had arrived in 1833 and Samuel Abel in 1836. By the end of 1839 they had become the first of the family to succumb to Williamís stories of the riches that were to be made in the new colony of Melbourne and made the momentous decision to try their luck with him in this new and exciting land that he had made sound so appealing. Robertís brother Joseph, the next youngest son, who was unmarried and 31 years of age, decided that he too would go along with them for the ride.
Robert and Joseph are thought to have arrived early in 1840, by which time Melbourneís population was still only around 4,000. Its not known whether they arrived together or on different ships at around the same time as no proven shipping record has been found. They would have arrived as unassisted immigrants with their fares having been paid for by William. As the arrivals of unassisted immigrants were not recorded at this time there is no certain record of exactly when and how they arrived.
However we can be reasonably certain that Robert arrived aboard the barque Louisa Campbell, which sailed into Port Phillip on April 15, 1840 accompanied by his two young sons but without his wife, who appears to have followed a few months later, possibly with Joseph. An excited William Sidebottom and his wife Emma carrying their month-old first born child would surely have been there to greet them.
The arrival of the Louisa Campbell was reported in a local newspaper and it is this report that gives the clue to Robertís arrival. The report noted that she carried six fare paying passengers, including Mr Langford with two young sons. It describes precisely what Robertís family would have looked like, without his wife Martha, in April 1840 Ė his first-born, James, was then 7 and Samuel Abel would have been 3. When Robert died on 11 January 1877, his death certificate stated that he had been in Victoria 36 years and 9 months. This is a very accurate statement of his time in Victoria. Such information was usually just a very broad guess provided by the informant for the death certificate. Whilst this was usually family, more often than not the only person who really knew was dead. However in Robertís case someone has taken the trouble to calculate the precise date of his arrival and it is one that fits to within a few weeks the arrival of the Louisa Campbell into Port Phillip on April 15 1840. Robertís wife was still alive at the time of his death and she would have known exactly when Robert arrived. Further, the informant on Robertís death certificate was his brother Joseph, who claims to have arrived with Robert and if this was so, he also would have known exactly when Robert and his family had arrived. If any more proof is needed, when Robertís wife Martha died in October 1878, her obituary in The Spectator included the statement - About the year 1840 her partner came to Melbourne, where in a short time our sister followed him.
Robert might have arrived as Mr Langford but afterwards, he and the rest of his family were known initially as Sidebottom, and later as Langford-Sidebottom. Being the first of Williamís family to arrive, the need to shield his brother from possible repercussions that might arise out of his using the surname Langford was probably foremost in his mind. Especially as a week after Robertís arrival, William was granted a license to operate his second hotel.
Again, according to Marthaís obituary, after spending a short time together in Melbourne Ė probably helping William out at one of his hotels - Robert and Martha moved to Pentridge. William had by then built a home on the land he had purchased on the Merri Creek. Within a short time Robert and William formed a partnership to farm the property and the 1841 census lists RL & W Sidebottom as farmers at Merri Creek.
On their arrival at Merri Creek, Robert and his family may have been a little surprised to note that the area was policed solely by a native police force that had jurisdiction over the white, as well as the black population that still lived there. They might also have been taken aback a little at the amount of work that lay ahead. The whole area was a forest of red gums, some with a girth of 18 feet and upwards of 60 feet high. All of which had to be cleared by hand if William's block was to be turned into farm. Much of the area to the north of Melbourne was the same. There was no road to Pentridge until 1851. So dense was the forest along the Merri Creek that the early settlers like Robert Sidebottom frequently became lost on the way into Melbourne and had to resort to blazing a trail on the tree trunks to ensure a safe return to their homes.
When Robert and his family first moved to Merri Creek, they were probably living in the home that William had built there as William, would have had plenty of alternative accommodation options at his disposal with his hotels back in Melbourne and at nearby Pentridge. In time however, Robert did own his own property at Merri Creek. It was situated on the banks of the creek immediately to the north of where today's Bell Street crosses the creek. It was part of Section 140, the 559 acres that John Fawkner had subdivided. Fawkner retained a financial interest in the land Robert had purchased as when some of the blocks were sold, the proceeds appear to have been split between Robert and Fawkner.
Whether this land had been part of Williamís original holding or whether Robert had bought a separate block for himself is not clear but the 1845 Port Phillip District Electoral Role lists Robert Sidebottom as having a freehold at Pentridge and he is still living there long after William had died. Even six years after Williamís death, in the mid-1850s, Robert still owned some of Section 140 and was selling portions of it off. The 1847 role lists him as a householder at Pentridge and the 1848/9 roles again list him as having a freehold at Pentridge. RL & W Sidebottom are also listed as farmers at Pentridge on the 1847 Almanac Directories of the Port Phillip Patriots list. It would appear from all of this that Williamís business relationship with Fawkner must have been extended to include Robert or perhaps all three were involved in a joint venture at Merri Creek.
Some years after Robert and Marthaís arrival at Merri Creek they had another two children. William was born in 1844 and even though it had been a Sidebottom family name back in England, he was more than likely named after Robertís brother and benefactor in gratitude for bringing his family to Melbourne and for establishing them on the farm at Pentridge. Emma was born in 1846 and probably named after Williamís wife for similar reasons.
During the early years of Robertís time on the farm at Merri Creek, Pentridge was described as a picturesque collection of wheat farms, market gardens and small villas. William and Robert's homes would have been nestled in amongst this idyllic sounding setting. William Westgarth also lived on the Merri Creek, just a few hundred yards further down the creek from Robert on a 46-acre block that had on it a presentable cottage. He had paid £350 for this and sold it nine years later for £6,000. In his book Personal Recollections of Early Melbourne & Victoria he also gives an interesting insight into the settlement there. He wrote of daily riding the four and a half miles into town on horseback to his business and described the area along the Merri Creek where they lived. He wrote of visiting a neighbour who had a house and garden at the nearest angle of the creek:
We would adjourn to a waterhole at the foot of the garden on the chance of seeing a platypus and sure enough after a few moments one rose before us in the middle of the poolÖÖon another pleasant evening walk I perceived quite a number of lights ahead. There were no public lights to scattered little Melbourne in those days, it could only be a native encampment and I was soon in its midst. The natives at a distance, especially in the far western direction were still at times hostile, but those that lived near the town were already quite peaceful so I had no hesitation in entering their encampment. I was most cordially received and shown over the different wigwams, each of which had its fire burning.
Along with a number of his brothers, Robert was an active and practising Christian and with his wife Martha, had a strong Wesleyan background that dated back to their days at Cheshire. Methodist gatherings at Pentridge date from 1840 when local Wesleyan preachers first became active in the area. Robert was instrumental in the building of a permanent Chapel at Pentridge in the late 1840s but prior to that, services were held in the homes of the Sidebottom and Kendal families with John Kendall conducting the Sunday School and Robert Sidebottom the class meetings. This extract from a Methodist Church History mentions their role in the development of the Church in the area:
The earliest beginnings of the Methodist Church in the district of Pentridge appear on the Methodist Melbourne Circuit Plan of 1842 when preaching services were held at the homes of Mr Sidebottom and Mr JB Kendall. A Sunday school was later established at the home of Mr Sidebottom and was conducted by Mr J Harding.
One of the Wesleyan preachers that regularly visited Pentridge to conduct services was James Dredge who had a habit of keeping a daily diary of his time during the early days of Melbourneís settlement. Dredge arrived with his wife and young family in January 1839 and spent his first few months living in a tent on the banks of the Yarra. Because he saw a need to visit many outlying areas to preach the gospel he thought nothing of leaving his family to fend for themselves at their campsite for weeks on end. In the early days he travelled everywhere by foot. Whereas businessmen like William Westgarth rode the 4Ĺ miles from the Merri Creek into Melbourne daily, a typical Dredge Sunday might involve a walk to Brunswick to conduct morning service, then onto Pentridge for an afternoon service and finally a walk back to Melbourne for his regular evening service. Hopefully his efforts were appreciated but more often than not, only a handful of people might attend the suburban services and on at least one occasion at Moonee Ponds, at the time that Joseph Langford was living there, Dredge noted that his walk was for nothing as nobody turned up!
Dredgeís diary entry for 3 October 1841 gives an intriguing insight into the services that were conducted in Pentridge at the homes of Robert and John Kendall. He wrote:
we were prevented having service in the usual house in consequence of the man having been beating his wife, whom, on his return home, he found in state of intoxication. We went into an empty house, however, and held a little service.
Richard Broome in his book Coburg, Between two Creeks also mentions the same diary entry and further noted that:
Besides these bare facts, tantalising fragments of Christian life in early Pentridge emerge from the diary of James Dredge, Aboriginal Protector and a preacher around Melbourne . . . . . .Whether this irate husband at Pentridge on 3 October 1841 was Robert Sidebottom or Henry Kendall or someone else is unknown; but we can still feel the manís self-righteous anger at finding a serpent in his own house and on Sunday when others were to come for worship. Wesleyans were hotly against alcohol, but less strict on wife beaters it would seem.
Broome does not attempt to identify the culprit but broadly suggests that it might have been Robert by going on to say:
If it was Robert Sidebottom, his wrath would have been quickened by several things. The Sidebottoms were listed as Anglicans in the 1841 census so that Robert Sidebottom would have been displaying the anxious ardour of a recent convert. Besides his own brother was a Melbourne publican and in 1842 the first licensee of the Golden Fleece Inn at Pentridge.
Tut tut, surely not our Robert? Besides, Broome got part of the story wrong. Robert and Martha had both been involved with the Wesleyan Church as far back as their teen-age days in Cheshire. They would only have listed themselves as Anglican in the early census because the Wesleyan Church was not as well established as the Anglicans in Melbourne at that time.
The services at the homes of Robert and John Kendall continued until the erection of the first church building in 1849. A number of prominent local Methodists headed by Kendall and including Robert Sidebottom had secured a block of land at Pentridge in 1848 on Sydney Road near the corner of Merri Creek Road for the purpose of building the districtís first church. Construction of a bluestone chapel commenced the following year and was completed in 1850 Ė the same year that the Prince's Bridge across the Yarra was opened. It was a given a faÁade of imported sandstone, as bluestone was not socially acceptable at that time. The church still exists but ironically, over a century later, the sandstone is badly flaked whilst the bluestone has remained completely sound. It now enjoys the prestige of a place on the Register of the National Estate and has a protective preservation order.
Attendance at the church was initially strong but from 1851 was adversely affected by the gold rush. Both John Kendall and Robert Sidebottom were strenuous supporters of the church during these difficult times and remained as active preachers throughout. With the return of the diggers the church began to prosper once again and regular preachers were then appointed although both Kendall and Robert continued preaching regularly in the new building.
An extension to the original modest chapel was begun early in 1857 to increase seating to about 300 people. Such was Robertís standing in the Wesleyan community that he was once again appointed to the building committee, even though he had moved on to Mickleham some five years earlier. The extended Chapel was completed and dedicated in December 1857. It became the headquarters of a new circuit that stretched from Pentridge to Beveridge and included Mickleham, hence Robertís active involvement with its construction.
By the end of June 1851 Melbourne had a population of 23,000 with another 31,000 in the rest of Victoria. On July 1 Victoria became a separate colony and four days later it was announced that gold had been discovered in payable quantities. Victoriaís population trebled in the three years after gold was first discovered with an influx of 25,000 new immigrants arriving each a year for the rest of that decade. It was an incredible rate of growth for the new Melbourne town. The influx of new chums was such that Hobsonís Bay could scarcely accommodate the ships which arrived daily. Whole streets were full of shops selling spades, picks, ropes, buckets, tents, tinware, anything that a budding prospector might require.
Prices of goods and land escalated at phenomenal rates. More new money was coming into Melbourne as those that had done well at the diggings returned to enjoy the fruits of their spoils. Throughout the 1850ís Melbourneís population grew fivefold to 126,000, yet at times its economy almost ground to a halt as workers and new chums deserted jobs and ships in droves to try themselves out at the diggings. Robert was not tempted to follow the hoards to the diggings. He was committed to his Merri Creek farm and like some other canny farmers and businessmen, was content to stay in Melbourne and wait for the miners to come back from the diggings to spend their money.
Robert had clearly learnt some valuable lessons from his brother William and soon saw the advantages of dabbling in speculative land purchases. Robert had also survived the depression that had rocked Melbourne in the 1840s and had waited patiently for the time to act. The Port Phillip District was separated from New South Wales and became the new State of Victoria in 1851, at around the same time as the discovery of gold. Land prices soon began to escalate and it was during the heady days of the early 1850s that Robert appears to have begun speculating in land.
His various dealings produce quite an impressive list. Some of his sales involve Fawkner so it would appear that like William, he too may have had some sort of business association with Fawkner at this time. I am indebted to Elva Langford who did most of the original research and have reproduced her list here in full, just to demonstrate how active Robert became. It also demonstrates how small fortunes were made by so many of Melbourneís early land speculators as blocks were bought up, subdivided and sold on to the streams of people starting to arrive in Melbourne after the discovery of gold. Doubtless Robert was involved in more deals than those shown here because by the time he died, he had managed to accumulate at least four separate farms. What I do have is:
19/3/1852 Robert and John Pascoe Fawkner sell approximately 10 acres of Section No 140, Parish of Jika Jika to James Langford, Robertís brother. James paid Robert £185 and Fawkner £5.5.0.
30/3/1852 Robert selects 265 acres Allotment 2A Lot 144 at Mickleham.
22/6/1852 Robert sells part of Section 140 to Nicholas Rodda for £53.
15/3/1853 Robert again combines with John Pascoe Fawkner and sells a further part of Section 140 at Jika Jika to James Langford. This time James paid Robert £145 and Fawkner £88.8.0
11/7/1853 Robert sells three separate parts of Section 140 on this one day. Lot 13 went to John Seddon for £10, another Lot to Thomas Mitchell for £5 and yet another to John Harding for £135.
12/7/1853 Next day Robert sells land at Mickleham to William Youle for £170.
31/12/1853 James Atkinson pays Robert £20 for Lots No 21 and 22 on Block 5, Plan of Subdivision of Plough Inn Village in the Parish of Morang
2/8/1854 William Edis pays Robert £110 and his wife Martha Langford-Sidebottom 10/- for about 25 acres of a portion of Lot 2A at Mickleham.
21/8/1854 James Colbon pays Robert £130 and Martha 10/- for another portion of Lot 2A at Mickleham.
28/2/1855 Emanuel Watts pays Robert £1,100 for part of Section 140 near Merri Creek.
20/1/1857 John Singleton paid Robert £35 for portion No 140, Lots No 1 and 2 and part of Lot 3 at Merri Creek.
Of all the family that William enticed to come to Melbourne, Robert is the one that seemed to have prospered most from whatever business expertise he had either gleaned from William, or perhaps even achieved in partnership with William. But whereas William did not live long enough to truly profit from his expertise in the new colony, Robert certainly did and appears to have done very well from his early association with William, and even more so after Williamís death. Perhaps more than anything Robertís success may have been to do with the fact that he was the first to answer Williamís calls to join him in Melbourne and that it was he that took so strongly to the Sidebottom surname, for which no doubt, William would have been most appreciative. Even after Williamís death in 1849, it was he alone who seemed to persist so strongly in continuing to use it. After Williamís death, Robert, despite being the second youngest of the sons to settle in Melbourne, appears to have become the patriarch of the family. Perhaps his financial success led to his other siblings seeing him as a replacement for the support that William had extended to them when he was alive.
Robert and his family moved from the Merri Creek farm to Mickleham around 1852, soon after Robert had selected his 265 acres at Mickleham. It would have been an astute move as the land at Mickleham, which was still a reasonable distance from Melbourne, could have been selected for £1 and acre whereas he would have been able to sell the farm at Merri Creek for a handsome profit. He now had ample funds to develop the new property and that's exactly what he did. Robert built a new home at Mickleham and established a dairy farm there. It was on the south side of Mt. Ridley Road (originally 17 Mile Lane) and Robert named it Hyde Park after Hyde, one of the larger towns around where the Langford family had grown up back in Cheshire. He then settled down to work his new farm at Mickleham, living there for the rest of his life and continuing to use the name Langford-Sidebottom to the end.
Mickleham developed quickly after the first settlers had arrived and within ten years it had two hotels in the township, although it was still described in the Balliere's Gazetteer as thickly timbered.
For some time back at Pentridge, Martha had acted as a midwife and nurse to the local population around Pentridge and was therefore a valued member of the local community at a time when doctors were hard to find in the more remote areas away from the city. She continued this work for many years at Mickleham.
Robert and Martha continued their active involvement with the Wesleyan Church after their move to Mickleham. Like Pentridge, there was no church when Robert and Martha arrived at Mickleham and once again they made their home available for church services. Together with his brother Thomas and brother-in-law Samuel Barker, both of whom had also moved to Mickleham, and a number of other local Wesleyan families, they soon set about building a new Wesleyan Church there.
Thomas had also purchased land on Mt Ridley Road on the opposite side to where Robert had settled and provided an acre of this land for the construction of a church. It was around two kilometres to the east of the Mickleham village, which was on what is now known as Mickleham Road but was then Sydney Road. A small weatherboard building was constructed on the site over the next few years. Thomas, Robert and their brother-in-law Samuel Barker, along with nine others, were appointed trustees of the property, which was also held in their name. The other trustees were Edward Wright, John Hawk, Joseph Pollard, William Bennett, Sampson Hooper, Alfred Pether, William Saxon, Thomas Wilkinson and Henry Cook.
A cemetery was established at the property as well as a Wesley denominational school, which used the church building as a classroom during the week. The school opened on 1 April 1855 with 48 children including a goodly proportion from the growing Langford and Sidebottom families that had now moved into the district. The first head teacher lived for many years in a tent near the school. Three years after it opened, Thomas' daughter Elizabeth, at 15 years of age, was appointed as an assistant teacher. She certainly wouldn't have had far to travel to work. It was known as Wesley School No 423 and operated on the site for 16 years until replaced by the present bluestone building in Mickleham village in 1871 Ė State School No 1051.
Robert was an active member of the school committee and in a 1988 Back to Mickleham publication was credited with being primarily responsible for getting the new school built. The publication stated that:
The origins of School 1051 lie in letters written by Robert Sidebottom who was the Correspondent for the Local Committee. On three occasions, November 1867, July 1868 and January 1869 he made written requests to the Board of Education for a grant of £90 to be used towards the erection of a bluestone building. The land had already been purchased for £10 from Mr William Saunders of Riseborough Park, the money being raised by public donation. These three requests were all refused. However in 1870, Robert made another application stating that the local committee had now raised £100 which had been placed in the Bank of Victoria, to the credit of the Board of Education. This time the Board agreed with Robertís request by making a £100 grant to match that of the Local Committee.
The residents who were on the Local Committee were Messrs Hatty, Colclough, Cully, Pithers, Saunders, Thomas Langford and Robert Sidebottom. The school was made of locally quarried bluestone and completed in July 1871 at a total cost of £368.6.0.
The Saunders family had also been pioneer farmers at Pentridge at the time Robert was there and were also active in the Wesleyan Church with Robert. They had moved to Mickleham at about the same time as Robert and occupied land that was next door to Robertís Hyde Park. One of their sons eventually married Robertís daughter Emma. It is believed that there was a number of Wesleyan families that may have moved from Pentridge to Mickleham at around this same time.
Robert lived at Mickleham for over 25 years and during that time, as well as his involvement with the local school and Wesley Church, he maintained an active interest in general community affairs. He served four separate terms on the Broadmeadows Road Board, which was established in 1858 to develop roads in the parishes of Will Will Rook, Yuroke and Mickleham, and on the Council. Along with his brothers Thomas and Joseph, he was also politically active in the district and on one occasion in 1874, all three were cited for their overenthusiastic support of a candidate by the name of F R Godfrey. It was alleged that Godfrey only won after they, along with a few other local farmers, had bribed voters with food and drink on polling day. A Parliamentary Inquiry was set up at which the local post-mistress reluctantly admitted that she had allowed the Ďvillainsí to use her kitchen at the rear of the Post Office where the polling booth had been set up, to dispense refreshments to those who were prepared to support Godfrey. The brothers appeared before the Enquiry where Joseph eventually admitted that there may have been one or two people a little tipsy at the booth, but he did not know where they had got the drink from.
William died at his home at Mickleham just three years after this momentous event in his life on 11 January 1877, just a couple of weeks short of his 66th birthday. His death certificate gave the cause of death as a bowel complaint and exhaustion. Wesleyan obituaries provide a glimpse of the Wesleyan approach to life and death and Robertís was no exception. His obituary, which appeared in The Spectator, stated:
Robert Langford Sidebottom was born in Cheshire on the 14th February 1811. He landed in Victoria in the year 1840 and lived two years in Melbourne, ten years in Coburg and 25 years in Mickleham. He was converted to God through the instrumentality of a Wesleyan Minister at the age of 15 and soon after was appointed a class-leader, and retained that office to the end of his life. For the last 19 years he has also been a local preacher. On the 3rd of January he took a prominent part in the anniversary of the Wesleyan Church at Mickleham and said he Ďnever worked harder to make an anniversary a success.í The next day he took ill, and felt that it would be a Ďsickness unto death.í He duly arranged his family affairs and spoke of his complete abandonment of the world and of special manifestations of the divine presence; he was waiting for God to call him home. The members of his class tell of the more than usual influence in the last class meeting which our brother conducted, and to the very earnest appeals in his last sermon. As one friend after another visited him during his illness, he related his delightful experience. At one time he said ĎMy soul is safely anchored in Jesus.í At another time, with uplifted hands ĎWill it not be glory when I enter?í An unconverted neighbour, who saw him often, remarked, ĎNo one need ask where he was going.í By-and-by the day of his departure came, and our brother sweetly passed away - it was the 11th January, 1877
Robert left a sizeable estate consisting of Real Estate which included Hyde Park and other farming properties that he had acquired around Mickleham that were valued in total at £2,004, as well as cash and securities valued at £1,718. His stock consisted of 45 head of cattle, two pigs, sundry poultry and a horse and buggy, chaffcutter and a churn. The total value of his estate is equivalent to around a million dollars today (year 2005). His furniture he described as 8 chairs, 2 tables, 1 sofa and two bedsteads. Not a lot for a man of his means but perhaps indicative of the frugal nature of the lives of these early settlers. All this he divided up between his three surviving children, charging William with the responsibility of caring for his widow Martha.
It has been suggested that some of the brothers may have contributed in some way to the little empire that Robert was developing but because the assets were primarily in Robertís name, they missed out on their share of the benefits when he died. Whether or not the other brothers had any moral entitlement to a share in Robertís estate will probably never be known, and to suggest that they might have had is perhaps making an unfair judgement of Robertís business affairs. Particularly as his brother Joseph was happy to witness a codicil to his final will and testament just a few hours before Robert was to die.
Whilst Robert was on his deathbed, it seems knowing clearly that he was about to die, he suddenly remembered that he had sold a piece of the land that in his will, he had left to his son Samuel. He realised that there might be some confusion within his family as to his intentions in the will, which he had prepared 11 years earlier in 1866, and at the last moment, decided to add a codicil to resolve this potential problem. As Robertís family and other friends gathered around him in his last few hours, Robert obtained his familyís concurrence to the changes that he wanted made. The codicil was hastily written by Thomas Butler, the local schoolmaster and one of Robertís friends present during his last few hours, and was witnessed by Butler and Robertís brother Joseph. The end result was that he left a farm to each of his surviving children as well as an equal share of all his cash assets, including cash from the recent sale of another farm property at Sunday Creek, Broadford.
Not surprisingly, when last minute changes are made to such an important document, the validity of the changes to Robertís will were queried by the courts and in due course the witnesses to the codicil and Robertís wife Martha were required to make statements attesting to Robertís intentions when he added the codicil. It appears the queries arose out of confusion about the use of different family surnames and the fact that Robert had signed the codicil with a cross. Perhaps a further complication was the fact that his wife Martha had also witnessed an original attempt at consent to probate with a cross. The ailing Robertís condition would have been the reason for his cross for he had signed the original will in his own hand, indeed an indication of just how ill he was towards the end. Its amazing that such an otherwise gifted woman and the wife of a successful businessman may have been illiterate. Perhaps she too was not in good health herself for it was about this time that she became ill with gastric fever and only survived her husband by 21 months. Anyhow, Josephís statement in support of the validity of the codicil gives an interesting insight into the background of the family in Victoria. In part he stated:
I Joseph Sidebottom of Mickleham make oath and sayÖ
That the said deceased was my brother and I came to this colony with him in 1840.
That our fatherís name was Thomas Langford and an elder brother William Langford came to the colony of Tasmania in 1825 and afterwards came to Victoria and being successful in business sent for my brother Robert (the deceased) and myself and we accordingly arrived in this colony as aforesaid in 1840.
That on our arrival we found our said brother William had taken our motherís maiden name ĎSidebottomí and called himself and was known as William Sidebottom.
That we followed our brotherís example and I have since that time always been known as Joseph Sidebottom and my said deceased brother has generally called himself and been known as Robert Langford-Sidebottom.
That my said deceased brotherís sons were sometimes called as follows. The elder ĎSamuel Abel Langford Sidebottomí and ĎSamuel Sidebottomí and the younger ĎWilliam Langford Sidebottomí and ĎWilliam Sidebottomí.
That my deceased brother before executing the said codicil and some few hours before his death stated that he intended to execute said codicil because of the property left under the will to his said son Samuel having been sold and he then asked his sons William and Samuel and his daughter Emma Saunders if they were satisfied and on their replying that they were he executed the said codicil.
Note there is no mention that brother William had arrived in Tasmania as a convict and the inferred reason for his change of name is related to business activities, rather than the need to cover up the fact that William had given a false name when arrested. Joseph also suggests the family only found out about William using the name Sidebottom after they had arrived in Melbourne. This too was clearly stretching the truth as there had obviously been many letters back and forwards to England that would not have found William without the name Sidebottom on the address. With Robert so active in his church activities it appears that the family felt a need not to let this aspect of the past be too widely known as at this time it was still considered a somewhat shameful state of affairs to have a convict hidden somewhere in the family. A closing of the ranks so to speak. It was no wonder that some of the family came to be known as somewhat reclusive and to believe that somewhere in the dim distant past there was a skeleton in the cupboard.
The interesting thing about Robertís will is that he started with the words I Robert Langford, also known as Robert Langford Sidebottom, without the hyphen. Further, whenever he referred to his wife in the will, he named her as ĎMartha Langford or Martha Sidebottom.í And to each of his children he gave the surname Langford without any reference to Sidebottom on the first page of the will but elsewhere, referred to them as being Langford, sometimes known as Sidebottom. Even within the family there seemed much confusion over just what surname they should have been using. It all brings to mind the proverb Ė Oh what a wicked web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Joseph was also the informant on Robertís death certificate. At the time he was still working for Robert as a dairyman at the Hyde Park farm, which explains his active involvement in the administrative aspects of Robertís passing. Despite the claim he made in his statement of having always used Sidebottom, Joseph appears to have used Langford for several years after his arrival in Melbourne, changing to Sidebottom only when he came to work for Robert. And he changed back to using Langford sometime after Robertís death. Interestingly, for the death certificate, Joseph gave Robertís parentís names as Thomas Langford-Sidebottom and Mary Sidebottom (formerly Sidebottom). Their father had never been known as Sidebottom back in England, but like the brothers, had also acquired it after his arrival here and his death was also registered as Thomas Sidebottom. Or was it perhaps just a final token of respect towards his departed brother, to give some respectability to his use of the Sidebottom name?
Perhaps the best information on the use of the Sidebottom name comes from the daughter of Robert Langford-Sidebottomís youngest son William, a Mrs Charlotte Piner. Charlotte was born Charlotte Elizabeth Hannah Langford-Sidebottom in 1872 and was of course, a granddaughter of Robert Langford-Sidebottom. She married Edmund Piner in 1892 and wrote a series of letters to Helen Hudson at the time Helen was researching Cherry Stones, which includes a history of the Langford/Sidebottom family. In one of those letters, which was undated but written in 1959, Charlotte wrote:
We were usually called Sidebottom but for any document that mattered we always signed Langford-Sidebottom.
And in a later letter to Helen Hudson:
I am afraid that our versions of the changing of the name differ somewhat, I have always understood from my father that the name was changed in the following generation. I have heard my father say that there were wealthy cotton folks in England named Sidebottom but he didnít speak as though they were any relation at all. The story as I have it is one of grandfatherís brothers suffered an indignity through absolutely no fault of his own.
Here Charlotte is obviously referring to the convict William, who was her grandfatherís brother.
After some years he asked his brothers if they would come out here and add Sidebottom to their name and offered to assist financially. Thomas and Samuel did not change their name but Dad said he thought his father and Joseph couldnít afford to turn the offer down. I didnít know any of the other Uncles so donít know what they did. I have heard Dad say that Sidebottom was a family name on the grandmotherís side.
Charlotte is referring here to her fatherís grandmother, who was Mary Sidebottom although from what she says it appears that she knew little about Mary. But she did have some interesting memories of stories she had heard about the familyís early days in Melbourne. She wrote:
I have heard my father say that my grandfather could have bought Ė not feet but acres Ė where the GPO stands now for £50. That little word if. And also: My father was born at Bell St Coburg, it was called Pentridge in those days and Dad loved to tell folks that he was born there. Mrs Ziebell told me that one of the uncles used to have the Golden Fleece Hotel in Elizabeth St, I wonder if it is still there?
Her memory is good, the gist of it is all there, clouded perhaps by a little confusion over some of the detail. The Golden Fleece was in Bourke Street, not Elizabeth, and another hotel of the same name and owned by the same uncle (William) also existed at Pentridge, and he did own The Black Horse in Elizabeth Street. Her father certainly couldn't have purchased the GPO block as that land was set aside for a Post Office from the very start. But he could have bought any amount of land all around it for that sort of price Ė like John Mills, who bought the block opposite the GPO for just £50 and her great-uncle William who bought a Bourke Street block just across from the GPO for a similar amount, a block that in future years was to become the famous GJ Coles No 12 Store at 299-307 Bourke Street. But overall, her recollections do support the facts that have been revealed in this research.
Another of Robertís descendantís whose ended up farming at Avenel wrote to me saying:
I am a direct descendant of William of Avenel, Victoria and Samuel who originally settled in Yuroke on a farm. There was a sister whom I only knew as Mrs Piner of Adelaide, she died before I met her. The name Langford-Sidebottom is hyphened. This is how our family identify each other. The family came from England before the goldrush with £1,000 and got their selection at Yuroke. I believe that they may have been a couple whose names were bought together on settling. Rumour has it that there was a skeleton in the cupboard.
Its an interesting note because it demonstrates how some of these family legends find their way down the generations. The skeleton in the cupboard story is widespread within the family and in this context probably refers to Williamís convict background, or perhaps to the manner in which he may have made his money in the liquor trade. The reference to the £1,000 is perplexing. It was a lot of money in those days and when I queried this it was suggested it might have been £100. But if the general thrust of the story is true it perhaps suggests that at least one of Williamís brothers may have arrived here with some capital of their own. However as none of them had anything like this sort of money back in Cheshire, this is probably most unlikely. The source of the legend is more probably an indication of what William had accumulated in Tasmania and then brought to Melbourne. If he did come to Melbourne with £1,000 its no wonder that he was able to do so well here and bring so many of his family over.
Martha was 6 years older than her husband and passed away herself just 21 months after Robert had died. Her health deteriorated dramatically soon after his death and she passed away on 26 October 1878 at Mickleham. According to her death certificate, she died of heart disease and senile decay, from which she had suffered for 12 months. She continued faithfully to use the Langford-Sidebottom name until her death. Her obituary, which like her husbandís, also appeared in The Spectator, was even more eloquent than Robertís. It read:
The subject of the following sketch, Martha Langford Sidebottom, was born in the county of Cheshire, England, December 18th, 1804. At an early period in life, even while quite a child, she was the subject of serious impressions, and being blessed with Christian friends whose kind words and good counsels assisted to bring before her mind more clearly the importance of regeneration and the new birth, these divine impressions ripened into a sense of her need of salvation, and eventually, through the divine mercy, she, at the age of thirteen years, stepped into the glorious liberty of the children of God, and was at once received into fellowship with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, where she received her first quarterly ticket. This event never lost its freshness on her memory, and was to the last a topic on which she always conversed with delight. In the year 1829 she united in the bonds of holy wedlock with the partner whom she survived only one year and nine months. This union would seem to have been a happy one. Being cemented in the bonds of Christian love, and of one thought in respect to divine things, they walked as two agreed, and united in endeavouring to advance the interests of Christís kingdom. About the year 1840 her partner came to Melbourne, where, in a short time after, our sister followed him. After a short stay in Melbourne, the family removed to Pentridge, now Coburg. This took place in 1843. They at once opened their house for the preaching of the gospel, and there divine worship was held from time to time, the services generally being conducted by local preachers from Melbourne. The children resident in the locality were also invited to the house, and a Sabbath school was at once formed and conducted every Sabbath by our good friends and a few others who united with them. The house soon became too small for the increasing congregation, and the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in that part was soon after erected. It was during their stay at Pentridge that our departed sisterís true Methodist character manifested itself; the preachers ever found a hearty welcome to her roof, which made them feel at home, and, under its influence, Methodism soon obtained a footing, the lands and edifices of today, pointing to our late sister as one of the pioneers of that place. Nor did this characteristic of her Christian life lessen in interest after the family removed to Mickleham, which was in 1852. There also, it may be truly said that our late sister, with her partner, were again the pioneers of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Their house, and all the comforts it furnished, were ever at the disposal of the preachers who came to take part in the various services, as doubtless many who are still living will bear testimony. Mrs Sidebottom was one of those hopeful, cheerful Christians, always looking on the bright side, and relying upon Christ, and feeding upon his promises by faith. She realised that almost constant peace of mind which comes only through a continual dependence upon God. In her house nothing delighted her so much as singing the songs of Zion, and conversing about the gloryland. In the former exercise she took great delight, and being blessed with good vocal powers, singing often brought a blessing to her soul. In the revival services held from time to time she was always an active worker, aiding by speech and song the seekers for pardon. Nor was she deficient in prayer; in this holy exercise our departed sister had power with God. She seemed to realise at times, when thus engaged, that she was holding intercourse with heaven. Her seat in the house of God was seldom empty: she has often said ĎI go to the chapel to worship God. At the class-meeting her attendance was regular and very encouraging to her class-mates. In her neighbourhood the calls upon her skill in attending to those needing medical aid were often numerous, but seldom failed to secure attention, and many a motherís griefs have been consoled while passing through the most trying period of life by the little kindnesses thus shown. Many who are still living will remember with feelings of pleasure the life and acts of our departed sister; and to this the writer would add the testimony of thirty-four years intimate acquaintance. But in extolling the goodness we have no desire to flatter, remembering that our sister was mortal. She had her faults, doubtless, as the most perfect have, but we will remember her for her goodness sake. Soon after the death of her partner, Mrs Sidebottom took gastric fever, and was for some time confined to her bed. She rallied, however, but it was evident that nature had received a blow. From this time her health rapidly declined, and she often endured seasons of physical suffering. About three weeks before her death she again took to her bed, and was soon brought very low. It was then, while being called to endure great pain, that she felt Christ to be her Saviour. To those around her bed she would say ĎWhat is this to the sufferings of Christ?í (Meaning her pain.) A few days before her death she repeated to her sister-in-law the following verse of a hymn she much loved:
Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are,
While on his breast I lay my hand,
And breathes my life out sweetly there.
On being asked by some neighbours beside her bed how she felt, she replied, ĎI am nearer my heavenly home.í A few hours before the vital spark fled a vision from the heavenly world appeared before her, and she exclaimed Ė ĎThere are shining angels in the room.í She then prayed for her children separately, and their families, and then Ďfell on sleep.í Thus passed away on the 26th October the spirit of Martha Langford Sidebottom to join the glorious choir in singing anthems of eternal praise Ďunto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.í A mother in Israel hath been removed and transplanted in the Eden above, therefore we mourn not as those that have no hope. TS
Mickleham, November 17th, 1878.
The author of the article was Thomas Saunders, from the family into which her daughter Emma had married.
Both Robert and Martha are buried at the old Mickleham cemetery, the one adjacent to the original Wesleyan Church that they had played such a prominent part in building and on that part of Thomas and Grace Langfordís original farmland that they had provided for the church. Robertís burial service was conducted by a Wesleyan Minister, the Rev James Tuckfield and their services would have attracted a large number from the Langford clan that still lived in the area. Her son William was the informant on her death certificate and her son Samuel and nephew Charles, Thomas Langfordís son, were shown as having been witnesses at the burial. The graveyard and the memorial stone erected by the family are amongst the most unique family graves that I have seen.
Mickleham Cemetery has long since closed and the original weatherboard church has been relocated and is now the Uniting Church situated nearby on the old Hume Highway. According to old residents, the cemetery was once much larger than it now appears and there are believed to have been some 200 from local pioneering families buried here, many from the various Langford/Sidebottom families that farmed the area for so many years. In its prime, the Mickleham Cemetery contained a number of graves that featured unique timber Ďheadstonesí and surrounds, but long after its closure, it is said that an old man who once lived in a nearby hut used these as firewood and generally reduced this once beautiful burial ground to the state it has now reached.
When I first visited the Mickleham Cemetery in the early 1980s it was still in a most picturesque setting. It sat in a small bowl, surrounded by gently undulating hills with the cemetery shaded by very old gnarled and knotted gums. Cattle were grazing throughout the surrounding property and the once tidy graves harboured flourishing briar roses and scotch thistles, protected from the foraging cattle by strong wrought iron fences. From Robert and Marthaís grave there rose a young but sturdy gum tree, already stretching beyond 3 meters and who knows, perhaps before many more years have elapsed, that gum will be the sole memorial to a forgotten pioneer.
All that is left is just three recognisable gravesites and these are all well fenced with solid, if rusting wrought iron. They each have stones on which the inscriptions are sometimes barely discernible, two of these are still standing but the third, Robert and Martha Langfordís stone, is leaning precariously against the iron fence around their grave. It reads:
to the memory of
who departed this life on
11:1:1877, aged 66 yrs.
Father of the fatherless,
Husband of the widow prove
Me and mine persist to bless,
Tell me we may meet above,
Seal the promise on my heart,
Bid me now in peace depart.
Also his wife
died 26 Oct 1878 aged 74 yrs.
Her end was peace.
This beautiful verse is taken from Hymn 915 in the Wesleyan Hymn Book Ė The Dying Fatherís Prayer.
Surrounding these three remaining gravesites there are a number of other stones that have not been able to withstand the ravages of time, or perhaps vandals. These lay about on the ground, mostly cracked and broken so that it is now almost impossible to decipher their inscriptions, but there is enough left to show that they too contained a variety of rather cute and archaic verse. IW Symonds, who wrote Bulla Bulla Ė An Illustrated History of the Shire of Bulla Bulla described the ageing burial ground as a tiny graveyard defiantly struggling against time and nature in its quest for survival.
These days the area has been developed and the grazing paddocks around the old cemetery have been replaced by modern homes. It will be interesting to see what happens to these old gravesites. Will they ever be accorded the same respect that is sometimes demanded of our sacred aboriginal grounds? Perhaps some local authority with an interest in the history of the area will create a Pioneer Park or some other suitable structure to preserve this fast diminishing link with the past.
As the original trustees of the property passed away, the history of its ownership became clouded and as far back as 1883 there was local concern as to the future of the cemetery as this old letter found amongst the records of the Victorian Public Records Office might indicate:
To Secretary of Lands, Victoria
From Wesley College Prahran,
17 April 1883
Re WESLEYAN CHURCH LAND AT MICKLEHAM
The Wesleyan Church holds some land at Mickleham, not direct from the Crown, but obtained from private gentleman under the old Act and settled in the trusts of the Sydney Model Deed.
This land in part has been used for many years as a Cemetery and an impression exists in the locality that the said land was registered as a burial ground. Would you kindly inform me whether the said land is registered as a burial ground or no. The land is a part of 11c area one acre. Names of the trustees are Langford-Sidebottom, Thomas Langford, Samuel Barker (and seven others) all Mickleham farmers.
The response from the office of the Secretary for Lands, noted at the bottom of the original letter was:
No record of any such order has been made by the Governor-in-Council in respect of the land in question. A search of the Office of Titles might secure the required information.
The property remained in the names of the original 12 trustees for 150 years before it was eventually formally transferred to the Uniting Church Property Trust in 1983.
Robert and Martha were privileged to see three of their four children grow to maturity, marry and start families of their own. Their children tended to retain the surname Langford-Sidebottom although confusion over its use seemed to continue into this next generation. Today the name has all but disappeared. There is only one listing for a Langford-Sidebottom family in Australian telephone books and only five individuals on the electoral roles.
William inherited a 138-acre part of his fatherís Mickleham property Hyde Park, plus another 50 acres on the other side of the Mickleham Road. The 138 acres probably included Robertís home on Hyde Park as he was also charged with the responsibility of caring for his mother for the rest of her life. He married Jessie Cameron at Beveridge in 1867 and by her had five children, one of whom was Charlotte Piner whose letters on the family have been mentioned earlier. Later, William moved to another farm at Iowa, near Berwick. He died there on 23 May 1923 aged 79 and was buried in the Bunyip cemetery.
Samuel also stayed on the land for the whole of his life, firstly on 175 acres at Mickleham that had also been part of Hyde Park, which he too had inherited from his father. He married Susan Baker on 17 September 1860 and by her had 12 children. Sometime after 1880 he moved his family to Avenel and took up residence in a cottage at the corner of the old Sydney Road and the Hume Highway and it was in this cottage that his last and 12th child was born. Later he secured a property of around 2,600 acres in the Avenel district, which has remained in the family ever since. Five of his 12 children married into the one Holloway family who were also farming in the Avenel district. Towards the end of his life Samuel became quite ill with dyspepsia associated with some cardiac weakness and at one time was injured when he fell from the Avenel railway platform. He eventually died suddenly of a heart attack whilst out walking at Avenel on the Sunday evening of 28 May 1899 at the age of 63. He was visiting a neighbour to check out what time they would leave in the morning to cut some chaff on a neighbouring Mangalore property. He said Ďgood eveningí to his neighbour then fell to the ground. A magisterial enquiry concluded that his death was due to heart disease. He is buried at Avenel. Both William and Samuel continued to use the name Langford-Sidebottom throughout their lives.
Emma married another local Mickleham farmer in William Henry Saunders in 1865. The Saunders family lived next door to Robertís Hyde Park property and had worked closely with Robert for the local Wesleyan Church and school. Emma inherited 132 acres from her father that had also been part of the Hyde Park property and was adjacent to the Saunders property. Her husband William inherited his fatherís property, which allowed Emma and William to join the two properties into a single substantial farm, which they worked for many years. Emma married under the name Langford-Sidebottom. She and William had seven children but when registering the births of their children, Emma sometimes gave her maiden name as Sidebottom, and sometimes as Langford. Eventually they too moved away from Mickleham to take on a farm at Goorambat where Emma died on 27 September 1877 aged 67.
The eldest of Robertís children was James. Little is known of James and as he was not mentioned in his fatherís will it is presumed that he died sometime prior to Robert making his will in 1866. No record of his death has been found so he may have died as an infant, neither is there any record in Victoria of a marriage or of him having fathered any children in Victoria.
Robert Sidebottom could rest in peace in the knowledge that he had come to Melbourne with nothing in the first few years of its establishment, had become a successful farmer and accumulated an impressive list of assets by the time he died. Enough to establish each of his children on a farm of their own with some additional cash for each of them as well. He could be proud of the contribution he had made to the district as a pioneer settler at Mickleham and of the extent to which he had been able to provide for the future welfare of his children.