Stories and People

John Marsh

John Marsh (1803-1871)


Rodney Marsh

On 12 November 1872 John Marsh died and was buried at the 83 mile peg on Albany Highway. His son, Edward Wellman Marsh (circa 1834-1915), is buried at East Perth Cemeteries. Edward arrived in Western Australia with his father John in 1850. On November 8 1992 a ceremony was held to unveil a plague to mark John’s grave site. The following address was given at that ceremony by Rev. Rodney Marsh.

Next Thursday (12th November 1992) it will be 121 years since John Marsh passed away and was buried somewhere near this spot. We are gathered here as his descendants, to acknowledge John as our forebear, pay tribute to his life, and dedicate this monument.

John was born sometime around 1803, in Dorsett, England. Most likely, he was a tenant farmer on an estate. In 1826 John married Hannah Wellman, and during their nearly 24 years of marriage Hannah bore eleven children. It seems most likely that two of these children died: Elizabeth, probably died at birth in 1834, since the next girl born was also called Elizabeth, and , Edwin, (Emma's twin) died 1845 when he was nearly one year old. Further grief struck John when John's wife Hannah died aged 45. Was it her death that prompted John to strike out for a new life in Australia? We do not know.

What we do know is that life was becoming more difficult for tenant farmers in rural Dorsett at that time. Railways were spreading through the countryside and communications improving, but rural life was hard. Taxes were high and education almost non existent. English industrialisation was causing the rural population to move to the large cities in search of work and urban poverty increased. Child labour flourished. It was not until 1833 that a law was instituted to limit the employment of 9-13 year olds to eight hours per day. Because of the extensive poverty, crime Was becoming rampant. But police did not exist until 1835 in London, and weren't widespread in England until 1850. Criminals, however, when apprehended, were given harsh sentences. Public hangings & floggings were common place, & petty crimes were punished by long imprisonment or transportation. Besides such social problems, we should note that in the mid 19th C modern medicine was in it's infancy. Operations were performed without anaesthetic. (chloroform was first used in 1850). Little was known about disease. Germs, as a cause of disease, and simple sanitation measures, such as hand washing or having a clean supply of water were unheard of as health measures. Death in childbirth both for mother and or baby was common. No doubt the vision of a rural lifestyle in a new, young colony attracted John to flee the squalor of England.

At the same time there was an optimistic air abroad. Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, & ruled for 63 years. England controlled the seas and ruled perhaps quarter of the world's surface area and population. The peace and strength of the Victorian era encouraged many English farmers to seek a new life in a new country.

In the mid winter of 1850, following the death of his wife, John Marsh may have seen an advertisement seeking settlers for the colony of Western Australia. Perhaps he thought this would be a big opportunity to do something he could never hope to do in England: become a land owner. John decided, and a courageous decision it was: As a widower at the age of 47 with seven dependent children he would set out to carve a new life in a new land. John & George, the two eldest sons would stay in Dorsett, and the rest of the family would move to WA. When John left Dorsett he knew he would probably never see his eldest sons again.

John set off for WA with a family party consisting of ten persons. Himself, Cornelius (20) and his wife, Mary. Rebecca (21) and her husband William Wellman, and the other five children, three girls aged 17, 9 and 5 (Sarah, Elizabeth and Emma) and two boys aged 13 and 6 (Edward and Frederick). The family would have packed the necessary belongings and set out by train for Plymouth. There John would have booked a passage family on the ship Sophia. The Sophia left Plymouth on the 27th of April 1850, complete with stores & stock for the three month voyage and arrived in Fremantle, on schedule, on the 27th July 1850.

Once in WA John established himself at Millendon, near Guilford. This was a brave move, though perhaps John had little choice. Brave, because less than one year before, settlers had been speared to death at Millendon. Mary Durack write that the “cottage at Millendon, with the mark of Yagan's spear still to be on the window ledge, was deserted." (p 209). At the time John arrived in Millendon, others were moving out in despair. John must have got quite a shock! The Irwins removed to Perth. the Tanners back to England. The Rev Wollaston recorded in his diary in 1853: "Respectable people of the upper class are moving away - when they can - who once thought to make this colony the permanent residence of their children". But John was a determined man. He stayed to make a ‘go of it’. He and other settlers were made of sterner stuff than that the flabby ‘upper class’ mob! They also had fewer choices! John had also arrived at an opportune time, for just one month earlier the first convicts had arrived in WA. 50 men were incarcerated at Guilford, & yeomen farmers, like John Marsh, could hire these men as labourers. We know John took advantage of this scheme, for he is recorded as having employed five ticket of leave men between 1864-1870. The convicts helped John progress at a difficult time.

But John had a hard time of it in Guilford. Within two months of the family's arrival, Cornelius (19), the eldest son, died, and by 1855 John had suffered the loss of four other children: Sarah (20), and Elizabeth Anne (12) died at Millendon in 1852 and Rebecca (25) 1854. Then Frederick died in 1855 aged 11. Millendon had many sad memories for John. This left John with only two surviving children: Edward (21 in 1855) and Emma (10 in 1855). Of his dead children only Rebecca had married and left John a Grandson John Wellman, who was registered as a farm labourer in Guilford in 1879. John Wellman’s descendants are here today representing the Wellman family connection to John Marsh.

In 1857 John decided to try his luck at Bedfordale and purchased Paradise farm. This was a good move for by 1860, just 10 years after his arrival in WA, the value of John's property had exceeded £300, which qualified him as a juror. In 1867 he advertised Paradise for sale, and it's land area exceeded 50 acres. This was a period of growth and development for John. In 1863 Edward married Jane Sherwood, and it is likely that John helped them settle on a property on the Canning River near Cannington. In 1869 Emma (aged 22) married ticket of leave convict Thaddeus Roberts. They had three children and their descendants represented here today. Meanwhile John played a prominent part in the development of Armadale. On Paradise he built what is now the oldest residence in Armadale. His farm was a notable landmark and a important staging place for the newly developing coach run to Albany. Horses were revived on the green pastures of Paradise.

Perhaps it was the link with the mail run to Albany, and the need to see his daughter set up, that led John to his final resting place here. We know he came to the 83 mile peg to lease 100 acres in order to set up a staging place for the coach run. The lease was to be in the name of his son in law, Thaddeus Roberts. Emma probably stayed home at Paradise. However before his enterprise came to fruition, John died and was buried here at the 83 mile peg. The spot has remained an A class reserve and, for many years his grave site (now lost) was adorned with lilies, according to the Wilkie family who selected the land. Because Thaddeus Roberts (Emma’s husband) was a ticket of leave convict, he was unable to continue the lease. He and Emma departed to Victoria. In 1872, following the death of his father, Edward inherited Paradise, and moved back to his childhood farm from Cannington. Edward Marsh and Jane Sherwood then raised their eleven children at Paradise and the Marshes spread from there.

What can we say of such a life? John’s choice to come to WA shows he was a man who could rise to challenge. He was a man of courage. He was also clearly a man of admirable initiative and enterprise. He began an enterprise at Guilford others were leaving in hopeless despair. He developed Paradise Farm. Then, despite considerable personal setbacks and grief in the 1850s, he persevered. John's life was characterised by hard work and plenty of it! Lastly we can say John Marsh clearly adopted a positive approach to life. He was a man of hope who died here forging ahead with a new enterprise in his final years.

Almighty God, we give thanks for the life of our ancestor, John Marsh. We give thanks for his courage, perseverance and hope. We give thanks for these and other qualities which have been handed down to us through our families. Make us, we pray, worthy recipients of the life and traditions which have been given. Give us too, as you gave John Marsh, courage to face life's challenges. To the memory a West Australian Pioneer, John Marsh, we dedicate this monument.

Rod March
Nov 8,1992.

Brought to you by:

National Trust of Western Australia


Friends of the Battye Library (Inc)

  • East Perth Cemeteries

    Bronte St
    East Perth WA 6004

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