Monday, September 5, 2016

Edmund Charles Clark - b1825

Builder during the Gold Rush

Even as he crossed the little wooden bridge there was no relief from the heat, the river was bare and still and the unfamiliar eucalyptus trees threw little shade.  “Could it get any hotter?” Edmund thought as he hurried to the post office of his new home to mail the letter he had written to his wife and children back in Ramsgate.  It wasn’t even lunch time yet, and the noise from the cicadas was deafening.  As he trudged along the road, red-yellow dust kicked up at every step.

Fortunately Edmund had found there was enough granite underneath to make good house foundations.  He took note with his builder eye as he approached the large building, a good solid roof of tile, sturdy posts for the veranda and a couple of good awnings for the royal mail coaches when they arrived.  An impressive building considering that it was surrounded by much smaller wooden ones that showcased the lack of carpenter’s skill in Sandhurst at the time.  He noticed they all had good, large signs attached however, and were a lot better than the makeshift tented rooms where most of the miners lived.

It was the heat and noise that he found so different from his home in Kent where the river Thames was always full and flowing, and the birdsong rang out.  Here the birds screeched loud and raucous, some even laughed at him, and the noise from the mining went on day and night.  Carts, equipment, horses and people were everywhere, along with the holes they were continually digging to look for gold. 

I wonder what it was like for his wife, back in England, to see him off at the docks of Liverpool and know that she would not see him again for years, not months to come, relying on those letters to home for news.    Edmund set out on a long sea journey and would not see Australia for 4 months.

Liverpool docks Circa 18815

Edmund, like many others came across the world to seek his family fortune in Bendigo (then Sandhurst) in the mid to late 1800's.  Gold was discovered along the banks of the Bendigo Creek in 1851 and the town went from a population of 800 to 20,000 in six months.  It is estimated that over 20 million ounces of gold was shipped from Australia to England during the gold rush. 

Sitting in Sydney, I could see the unassisted passenger list,  Number 127, Edmund Clark, adult male, English.  Point of embarkation Liverpool, contracted to land in Melbourne.  The date of his departure from Liverpool was significant, as it was right in the middle of the gold rush in Victoria in 1854.

Like many documents, this passenger list only let to more questions.  Edmund wanted a good life for his wife and young family, and he could see the results of the industrial revolution taking hold in England.  Food prices were rising, work becoming scarce and wages falling.  English newspapers were full of advertisements for skilled tradesmen to go to Australia and make their fortune, either on the goldfields or in the townships.  They also contained articles about the tonnes of gold being shipped back to England. 

So Edmund made the decision to go, but how would he pay for the passage?  The easy solution was a loan, but that meant that his family had to stay behind as collateral.  Endmund was a go-getter, hard worker, and risk taker, so he set off for the goldfields of Bendigo.

He knew many people were doing the same, and they would need somewhere to live.  Edmund took the risk that there would be plenty of work for a fit carpenter/builder.  he was right of course.  he set about building small cottages for the miners and the debt was repaid quickly.  Within three years his wife Mahala and three children were on their way to Australia to join him.


Edmund is the youngest son of John Clark and Jane Beer.  It would seem both families had a long history with Dover and Kent.  Edmund was born in 1825 in Ramsgate, Kent, and baptised at the St Lawrence Church, Ramsgate in November of that year.  His father was a Builder, and brothers were carpenters, according to the 1841 census when the family was living in Addington, (A town in the Parish of Ramsgate) in Kent.

St Lawrence Church, Ramsgate where Edmund was Christened.
Edmund's mother died in August, 1849 and he married Mahala Banks a month later on 1st. September, 1849.

By the 1851 Census Edmund and Mahala had one child, a daughter, Elizabeth who had been born just 11 months earlier, and Edmund was a Carpenter Journeyman, meaning he has successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification.  Journeymen are considered competent and able to work in that field as a fully qualified employee. Although a journeyman has completed a trade certificate  they are not yet able to work as a self-employed master craftsman.

In 1855 Edmund was 38 and travelled on the Glenmanna to Australia, the journey took 4 months.  The GLENMANNA  sailed on 28/10/1854 - and arrived in Melbourne on 14/2/1855 from Liverpool.  It was reported as being 1,246 tonne; Captain H Rogers; 286 passengers; 110 days; light weather, which at times left them almost becalmed.  The previous voyage of the Glenmanna  had been a disaster, with 44 people dying of cholera in Canada.


During the 1850's it was not unusual for men to immigrate to Australia ahead of their family.  Not for the obvious reasons, but because they had borrowed money for their passage.  The father set out for the goldfields of Australia and the family stayed behind as security for the loan.  Once the debt had been paid off the rest of the family immigrated to Australia.

The gold rushes of the 1850s brought a huge influx of settlers,  initially the majority of them went to the richest gold fields at Ballarat and Bendigo, and Victoria soon had a larger population than New South Wales.  Gold produced sudden wealth for a few, and some of Australia's oldest wealthy families date their fortunes from this period, but also employment and modest prosperity for many more. Within a few years these new settlers outnumbered the convicts and ex-convicts, and they began to demand trial by jury, representative government, a free press and the other symbols of liberty and democracy.  It was a time that would change Australian history for ever.

So Edmund came to Australia in 1855, when Bendigo was called Sandhurst, and was a bustling city of miners, just a year later, his father died in England.

Sandhurst 1857

Sandhurst 1884

"General view of Sandhurst, the centre of Quartz-reef Gold mining,Victoria". wood engraving published in Comprehensive Atlas and Geography, 1882

Two years after Edmund, Mahala traveled to Australia with their 4 children, Elizabeth, Mary Anne, Mahala and Edward, (all aged under 6) arriving in Melbourne on 30th July, 1857.  Edmund and Mahala went on to have another 6 children.

In 1866 we know the family was living at 10 Havelock Street, Bendigo, when the youngest daughter Susan was born.  By 1903 the family were living in Wattle street, but still owned the Havelock Street house, where Edmund and Mahala are also listed on the electoral roll.  It is most likely that Edmund built this house.

10 Havelock Street, Bendigo (today)

In 1916, George Mackay continued his popular series of the 'Annals of Bendigo', and wrote:...'Mr E.C. Clark arrived in Bendigo in 1854, and followed the occupation of builder.  He assisted to build the first post office.'..... 

Bendigo Post office, 1887

Bendigo Historical Society completed a report on the family for me, and they unearthed many houses built by Edmund, most were miners cottages, and he probably built one, sold it, and then built the next one and so on. He built over 30 houses, many in Wattle and King Street. 

Read about William and Mahala's children here.  One of  Edmund's children, named after his father, (also Edmund) married and moved to Western Australia and a whole section of the family began there.  Joseph Clark was my Great Grandfather, he appears to have been in trouble quite a lot in Bendigo for petty crimes, and I would speculate he was shipped off to NSW as the black sheep of the family.   More about Joseph in a later post.

Edmund died on 24th February, 1905, and is buried at the historic Bendigo Cemetery, alongside his wife Mahala who died nearly a year later, on 4th January, 1906.  I have found Edmund's will, and he was quite well off for someone of those times. 

Grave of Edmund and Mahala.
Edmund and Mahala took a chance and left England for a better life and opportunities in the Goldfields of Bendigo, Victoria,  Australia.  They built a good life, houses, and family together.


More Information? If you are researching Edmund Charles Clark or Mahala Banks or their family,  and would like the sources for this story, please contact me or comment below.  I would be happy to collaborate with you.

1841 Census - Edmund Clark

Mahala Banks - Edmund Clark marriage.

1851 Census - Edmund Charles Clark

Mahala (Banks) Clark immigration

Mahala and Edmund's children.

Death of Edmund and Mahala Clark - 7

The Will of Edmund Charles Clark