Whilst Robert Wuchatsch and his late wife Gaye were researching Gaye's great-great-great-grandfather John Muston they found in the Birmingham Library in England revealing letters written in England and Australia between 1829 and 1841 by Muston to his sisters, and his brother-in-law Joseph James, a Birmingham draper who was married to his sister Mary.
John Muston was born in London in 1800 to William Muston, mercer, and Ann Blakesley. He was apprenticed as a grocer and in 1825 he married Mary Ann Joynes, the daughter of Richard Joynes and Hannah Hood. They lived near Derby where John worked as a grocer selling coffee and teas imported by the East India Company. It wasn't long before he was insolvent.
Mary Ann's brother, Richard Joynes migrated to Van Diemens Land in 1831 and influenced John Muston to do likewise. Muston sought financial help from Joseph James, describing in his letters the wonderful opportunities in Australia.
Goods required for setting up a business travelled with John Muston, Mary Ann, their son John junior, and John's nephew William, on their voyage to Australia on the "Cygnet." They arrived in Hobart in December 1834, Joseph James having financed all the goods, valued close to £2,000.
Muston too a seven year lease on a house and shop and went into partnership with Richard Joynes. Their business never flourished.
Letters sent to Joseph James list goods he wants sent out whilst also criticizing the quality of drapery, etc., that he had for sale. He argued that the citizens would not purchase inferior goods. He sent orders through James for shoes, a coffee roaster, and linen. The shoes he said later were of inferior quality.
Perhaps he was not a good businessman. he blamed everyone else for his problems and eventually there was a falling out with Joynes.
In 1836 Muston met William Roadknight who was organising shipping sheep to the Port Phillip District. Muston became interested and organised for Roadknight to buy some sheep for him. It took some months to sell his business and in mid-1837 he arrived in Port Phillip on the "Sea Witch" with his sheep.
Roadknight settled along the Barwon River in the Barrabool Hills whilst John Squatted at nearby Gnarwarre.
He returned briefly to Hobart as his wife Mary Ann was ill. They were not happily married and a letter to Joseph James at that time revealed more financial and personal problems. Joseph was upset because he was owed a lot of money, and Muston always had a excuse for his inability to repay him. Roadknight had failed to pay a large debt to Muston and worst of all Mary Ann had had a sexual encounter with Roadknight.
Muston had no farming experience but did succeed in shipping bales of wool to England over the next few years.
In 1839 he was required to vacate his run as the government wanted to sell it. On the property were three slab and thatch huts, four acres of grain, plus potatoes and tobacco.
John moved to the Portland Bay area on a property he called 'Muston's Creek Run' or 'Rugbymead' (named after Rugby in Warwickshire where his parents were born) of 30,000 acres of fine sheep land. Here he had all the same problems as well as being in an area with hostile aborigines.
Wool prices dropped. John wrote on 1 January 1841 what appears to be his last letter to Joseph James. He mentioned the high cost of wages, flour, etc., the problems with the aborigines stealing sheep and the poor returns for wool. He referred to 28 acres of land he bought in Richmond which had been divided into half acre allotments. He didn't mention he had done well financially from the sale of land he had in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Nor did he mention he had a mistress, Janet Millar. Muston put 'Rugbymead' on the market and moved to Richmond where Janet was living. George Augustus Robinson, the Aboriginal Protector visited 'Rugbymead' in April 1841 and described the sheep as 'scabby' - 'He has one hut, tolerably decent . . . and a miserable hovel . . .'
Mary Ann Muston had remained in Hobart with her son, John Muston junior, but in 1842 she moved to Port Phillip where she later ran a confectionery shop. She wrote to Joseph James telling him his money would never be repaid, and that her husband had a mistress with whom he had two children. John was declared bankrupt in 1842 owing Joseph over £4,000.
In 1846 John and Janet shifted to Sydney, New South Wales where they married in 1848, a month after Mary Ann had died. They had ten surviving children but sadly John turned his back on his family in England and his first son, John Muston junior.
John junior was trained as a tailor by his uncle Richard Joynes and eventually set up his own business in Melbourne. In 1848 he married Jane Goodfellow and they had two children.
John Muston died in 1876 in Sydney. He had dabbled in commerce but a salaried position as an accountant enabled him to become financially secure. He never repaid his debt to Joseph James.
Muston was selective in what he wrote in his letters but Robert Wuchatsch's book about him makes very interesting reading.
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