ELIZA FAWKNER

A Founding Mother of Melbourne


Whilst researching the migration of people across Bass Strait, Barbara Hamilton-Arnold realised how little we know about our founding "Mothers".

Firstly, Mrs. Catherine Batman, wife of John Batman's brother, Henry, arrived at Port Phillip with her husband and four children on the "Rebecca" in early August 1835. Soon to follow were Mrs. Eliza Fawkner, Mrs. Amelia Lancey, Mrs. Mary Gilbert, Mrs. Eliza Batman (nee Callaghan), Miss Anne Drysdale (governess to the Batman children), Mrs. Martha Lonsdale and Mrs. Mary Hoddle. Later came Mrs. Sophie Latrobe and Mrs. Georgiana McCrae.

Eliza Fawkner is of particular interest to Barbara Hamilton-Arnold. Born Eliza Cobb in England, she grew up to be unattractive, ungainly with a pock marked face and a caste eye. She was employed as a maid in a stately home in Kensington, London. On 17th September 1817, she was sentenced to 7 years transportation for 'feloniously and maliciously' kidnapping a 4-month-old baby. She arrived in Van Diemen's Land on 11th October 1818.

The arrival of women in the Colonies was cause for great excitement. Men rushed to the ships to choose a 'wife'. On this occasion, in Hobart, John Pascoe Fawkner was amongst these men. His first choice was apparently the most attractive of the women, but following a brawl with another man, she abandoned Fawkner for the other man. Fawkner returned to the ship and chose the plainest woman on board - Eliza Cobb.

John Pascoe Fawkner's mother, Hannah, was the backbone of the Fawkner family. A free woman, she had been allocated land. As John grew up, he helped his father in his bakery, timber business and brewery.

In December 1819, Eliza, aged 19 and John, aged 27 loaded up a cart and headed for Launceston. With a permit from Governor George Arthur, they were married on the 5th December 1822. They were married in a blacksmith shop. Over the next 16 years, they established a bakery, timber business, bookshop, a newspaper, nursery and orchard and after Eliza had received a pardon, Fawkner obtained a licence to run the Cornwall Hotel.

Alert to new opportunities, the Fawkners moved to the Port Phillip District, landing on Friday, 16th October 1835. Fawkner's diary reads: 'Warped up to the Basin, landed 2 cows, 2 calves and the 2 horses.'

As she had in Launceston, Eliza also took a huge role in helping her husband with his business ventures in Port Phillip. John described Eliza as his 'guardian angel and true friend.' She presided over their hostelry. James Louis Willis from the Plenty River wrote in his diary, 'Dined at Fawkner's, praised Mrs. F's curry - rabbit'. But also 'her extreme condescension and affability to her guests is sometimes quite overwhelming'.

Eliza bore no children of her own. She and John fostered numerous children including Amelia Lancey (Captain John Lancey's daughter) and 2 children (Sarah Jane and Charles Henry) of barrister John Joseph Walsh, after his first wife died. When he remarried, they persuaded Walsh to allow them to adopt his daughter Sarah Jane. They adopted Annie Williams from the South Melbourne Orphanage and christened her Eliza Ann Fawkner. They also took in 3 children of Fawkner's nephew after his wife died.

Fifteen months after John's death, Eliza, aged 70 married John Joseph Walsh. He was 44. On the marriage certificate Eliza gave her age as 56. She also noted the birth of one child, no longer living. Had she perhaps given birth to a child, or had an abortion which rendered her infertile, prior to the kidnapping?

On Eliza's death in 1879, (? aged 79), she left an estate worth 9,000. The beneficiaries were her adopted daughters, Sarah Ann Walsh and Elizabeth Ann (married name Wiseman). Her husband was left an allowance for the rest of his life. 500 was left for a monument to be erected at the Melbourne General Cemetery for her first husband, John Pascoe Fawkner. They are buried together there.

(The Above is a Report on Barbara Hamilton-Arnold's Address at the General Meeting on 8 May 2004)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)


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