Elizabeth Bellinger and John Willis

Elizabeth Bellinger was born on 13 January 1818, with the event registered under the surname of Thompson, and baptized the following year on 2 February 1819. Elizabeth's mother was recorded as Ann Thompson, unmarried, at the time of her birth.1 In 1828 a census was taken of children requiring education in the Glenorchy area and Elizabeth was recorded, along with her sister and brother.2

On 15 July 1835 when Elizabeth was 17, she married John Willis in Hobart, Tasmania. Elizabeth signed her name with a mark, indicating she couldn't write. William Bedford performed the ceremony. The witnesses were James C. Brien of O'Briens Bridge (in the area of Glenorchy, seat of the Bellinger family home) and William Holdship of Hobart Town.3

An earlier version of this biography recorded a potential family for John Willis and Elizabeth Bellinger, with the birth of two children in Hobart, although there was conflicting information in that while the father was recorded as John Willis, the mother of both children was consistantly referred to as Agnes Elizabeth, surname unknown. Marianne Willis was born on 21 March 18374 and Frances Emmily Willis was born on 13 April 1839.5 There is no marriage registered for a couple by the name of John Willis and Agnes Elizabeth which suggested that perhaps they were in fact John Willis and Elizabeth Bellinger. It is now known that this was a separate family entirely, based in Hobart while John Willis and Elizabeth Bellinger were based in Sorell.

Before looking at the issue of any potential family however it would be useful to reveal more of the background of John Willis. Following the long trail of information that is available it is evident that John was the convict by the same name who arrived with David Collins on the Calcutta in 1804. Again, the earlier version of this biography suggested that as a possibility, but it is now confirmed by John's will and other references. John was born about 1777, a date calculated from the age he stated when he went to trial. A transcription of the trial record follows:

79. JOHN WILLIS was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 27th of November , twenty-six yards of woollen cloth, value 11l. 1s. the property of John Talbot , in his dwelling-house.

JOHN TALBOT sworn. - I live at No. 84, Edgware-road , and am a tailor , I keep a quantity of cloth by me: On the 27th of November, about half past six, my wife told me there was somebody taking something off my cutting-board; I ran out at the door, and collared the prisoner, I saw him drop the cloth as he was running; there are twenty-six yards and a half of it, and it is worth 11l. 1s. it lay close by the door upon a board where I cut out; I left the door open to take off the smoke of the candles; when I took the prisoner, he said he was following the person who took the cloth, and that he was not guilty.

Cross-examined by Mr. Alley. Q. Have you never said, that you never saw the prisoner drop it, but somebody else near the place? - A. No.

GEORGE WRIGHT sworn. - I cannot swear to the prisoner being the man who took the cloth, but on Thursday, the 27th of November, between six and seven o'clock, I was sitting in my own shop. being a shoe-maker, and a person stopped at my door, and took hold of the latch; there was no light but what I was working by; the man could not see me in the manner I sat, till hearing the door move, I held up my head; and the person ran away, who, I supposed, was a thief; I got up, and looked through the glass, and saw another man in company, I looked as long as I could see the man; the prosecutor having nobody except himself and wife in his house, I went out of doors and looked towards his house, and saw two men at his shop door in the passage; I thought they were talking to him, which made me not pursue them close; I then saw them take this piece of cloth, and run from the door, upon which I called, stop thief, and I saw Talbot run after them; I ran after him, and overtook him, but did not go far, because I left my own shop; I pursued them till they had dropped the cloth, which I picked up, and returned to his wife; whether Mr. Talbot took the person that took the cloth, I don't know, I cannot swear to him.
Prisoner's defence. I am innocent of the charge.

Court. (To Talbot). Q. Are you sure that cloth was laying on the table? - A. I will take my oath it was; there is a private mark at the other end of it. GUILTY , Death.

First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Justice Grose.6

XX/XX/1803 Calcutta Tipping

XX/XX/1804 Clothing Supplied to Convicts Shaffer List App. 3.2 p. 236

XX/XX/1804 Persons victualled Shaffer List 1.1 p. 14

XX/XX/1808 Absconded Tipping

XX/04/1810 Conditional Pardon Shaffer List 6.1 p. 61

21/03/1811 Return of Men who have been convicts. Shaffer List 6.2a p. 73

XX/XX/1811 Sent to Sydney for Trial Tipping

Sitting Magistrate for the ensuing week- A. Riley, Esq.

The Court of Criminal Jurisdiction assembled on Monday, and proceeded to the trial of John Denham, William Mansfield, and Samuel Levy, charged with stealing eight sheep, the property of Matthew Bowden, Esq. of Hobart Town, on the 26th day of September last. A number of witnesses from Hobart Town gave evidence, upon which Samuel Levy and John Denham were found guilty, and sentenced to suffer death. William Manfield was acquitted of the charge.
The above was the only trial on Monday :-The morning following...

John Willis was then indicted for stealing a ewe sheep, value 40s. the property of James Clissold, at Hobart Town, on the 29th of August last; of which he was found guilty.---Death.

The three prisoners capitally convicted, namely, John Denham, Samuel Levy, and John Willis were now put to the bar to receive sentence, which was preceded by an exhortation, pathetically delivered, from the Judge Advocate, and decreed them to suffer death at such time and place as His Excel- lency the Governor and Commander in Chief should think proper to appoint.-Here ended the Session, and the Court adjourned sine die.7

Just under two months later John Willis must have been gratified to learn that he had been conditionally pardoned of the crime as follows:

Government and General Orders
Head Quarters, Sydney
Saturday 11th Jan'y 1812

His excellency the Governor has been please to extend the Royal Mercy to the criminals John Denham, Samuel Levy and John Willis, tried at the last Court for Sheep Stealing, convicted and sentenced to suffer Death for the same, by granting them severally Conditional Pardons on the sole Condition of their continuing as convicts in the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies during their respective Natural Lives, and to be kept at hard labour.

By Commond of His Excellency
The Governor
J. T. Campbell, Sec.

The pardon itself was drafted on 18 January 1812:

By His Excellency Lachlan Macquarie Esquire, Captain, General, Governor and Commander in Chief in and over tHis Majesty's Territory in New South Wales and its Dependencies.

Whereas John Willis was at a Court of Criminal Jurisdiction holden at Sydney in and for the Territory aforesaid on the Eleventh day of November One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eleven, Tried and Convicted of Felony and received Sentence of Death of the same. And Whereas on Account of some favourable Circumstances in Mitigation of his Offence, I am Induced to Extend Grace and Mercy unto him and to grant unto him the said John Willis a Pardon for his said Crime On the sole and express Condition that he the said John Willis shall Continue to reside as a Convict in the said Territory of New South Wales during the Term of his Natural Life and be kept at Hard Labour.

By Virtue therefore of the Town and Authority Vested in Me I do hereby grant him the said John Willis His Majesty's Pardon for the said Offence on the Condition above specified, which said Pardon shall be Null and Void if he the said John Willis be ever found at large our of this Territory or its Dependencies Contrary to the express Tenor, Meaning and Conditions thereof.

Given unto My Hand and Seal of Office at Government House Sydney the Eighteenth day of January in the Year of our Lod One Thousand Eight Hundred and twelve.

L. Macquarie.



XX/XX/18XX Land Grant in Sorell Tipping

XX/12/1816 Witness at the inquest of Richard Francis Tipping

18/09/1818 General Muster of Free Men at Hobart Town Shaffer List 8.3a p. 118

In June 1819 John Willis was recorded as supplying meat to the Government Stores, namely 500 pounds on the 25th of the previous September 1818.8

22/10/1819 Land and Stock Muster Shaffer List 9.2 p. 147

John Willis, 40, married Bridget Keef, 24, on 6 August 1821 in Hobart Town. John was recorded as free while Bridgit was recorded as a convict per Alexander. The witnesses were Brian Cain and George Northam.9

XX/XX/1822 Hobart Town Muster Shaffer List 11.1 p. 194

In the late 1820s two children were buried in Sorell that may represent the children of John and Bridget Willis. On 15 May 1828 a John Willis of Pittwater, aged six months and three weeks, was buried in Sorell, noted to be the son of John Willis, a farmer.11 The following year on 08 April 1829 a Mary Ann Willis of Sorell, aged three weeks, was buried in Sorell, noted to the daughter of John Willis, a farmer.12

13/12/1833 Lamb Inn, Sorell HTG 13 Dec 1833

Michael O'Brien, who had been admitted to bail on a charge of assaulting and beating one John Willis, was acquitted, the prosecutor not appearing.10

16/07/1834 Death of Bridget Willis (Inquest) SC195/1/1 (Inquest 7)

21/07/1834 Burial of Bridget Willis (Richmond) RGD 1834/3751

15/07/1835 Married to Elizabeth Bellinger(58) RGD 1835/2762

John Willis was charged with furiously riding along the public streets, so as to endanger His Majesty's liege subjects. The defendant who is lately married, admitted he was riding with his wife briskly, that the horse got the bit in his teeth, and would run on. The constable insisted he was riding furiously ; the defendant stuck to the his story. The case appeared very plain, and the defendant had his bit drawn to the amount of £2 and costs.14

The year after their marriage John and Elizabeth were witnesses to the wedding of Elizabeth's brother Charles to Mary Ann Thompson on 7 November 1836 in Sorell. John and Elizabeth were recorded as living in Sorell.15 John was also a witness to the next wedding on the same day between James Gangell and Ellen Benson. His fellow witness was Joseph Pullen of Forcett.16 Later in the same month on 23 November 1836 Elizabeth was a witness to the wedding of Thomas Denham and Hannah Matthews. William Smith of Carlton also witnessed the event.17

In 1839 John Willis was a witness at the inquest into the death of Ann Podmore. Ann's death was later determined to have been the result of constant ill-treatment by her partner William Curry who was ultimately convicted of manslaughter.

The Signature of John Willis

The Signature of John Willis
Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

In late 1839 John Willis was mentioned in relation to land owned by him Sorell.

John Morrisbey, 185a. Sr., Sorell, Pembroke, originally Robert Allomes, but sold by the Sheriff to David Lord, who sold to claimant; claim dated 22d July, 1839. Bounded on the northern side by 57 chains and 40 links extending easterly along locations to Robert Nash and John Willis to the west boundary of another location to John Willis, on the eastern side by a southeasterly line at right angles with the northern boundary of 32 chains and 20 links along a location to William Jenner and John Birchall, on the southern side by a westerly line (at right angles with the eastern boundary) of 58 chains along a location to Robert Allomes and partly along a location to Frederick Dawes, and thence on the western side by a northerly Hue (at tight angles with the southern bound, ary) of 32 chains and 50 links along the said location to Frederick Dawes to the point of commencement.11

Again, in Jul 1840, he was named as a landowner in Sorell.

John Willis, lr. 31 p., Sorell, originally ordered to the applicant; claim dated 15th June. 1840.12

And once more in 1841.

John Willis, lr. 22p., Sorell, originally John Billett, who conveyed to the applicant ; claim dated 13th June, 1840. Bounded on the east by 148} links northerly along Walker street, on the northern side by 138 links along an allotment granted to the Executors of the late Harris Walker, thence by 10 links also along that allotment, again on the northern side by 131 links also along that allotment, on the south west by 156 links south-easterly along an allotment occupied by or belonging to _ Stacey, and on the southern side by 248 links along allotments occupied by or belonging to T. Pearson and _Innis to the point of commencement.13

On 24 April 1841 John Willis created his last will and testament:

In the name of God Amen. I, John Willis of Sorell in the Island of Van Diemen's Land being of sound disposing mind, memory and understanding do make this my last Will and Testament.

First, I give and bequeath unto my dear wife Elizabeth Willis, her heirs and assigns for ever a Cottage erected upon an allotment of ground situate in Sorell bounded on the East by Currie street on the North by an allotment belonging to the late Captain HobXXXX's estate on the West by XXXXXX's allotment and on the South by XXXXXX's allotment.

I also give and bequeath unto my dear wife Elizabeth Willis her heirs and assigns for ever a Cottage erected upon an allotment of ground situate in Sorell bound on the North by Richmond street on the East by Birchall's allotment on the South by Silas Gatehouse's allotment and on the West by Egglestones allotment.

I also give and bequeath unto my dear wife Elizabeth one hundred and eighty eight pounds sterling money of Great Britain to be paid to her on demand from the Commercial Bank. At the same time I appoint my dear wife Elizabeth Willis sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament to which I have hereunder set my hand and seal this twenty fourth day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty one.

John Willis.

Geo Peacock
John Billett
Joseph X Blyth

Deceased died 25th April 184114

As the will noted, John Willis died the next day on 25 April 1841 but the event was not officially registered. Given the closeness of those dates it is obvious that John knew his end was near and wanted to sort out his affairs. The tone of the will also indicates he was devoted to his young wife Elizabeth Bellinger. According to the Tombstone and Memorial Inscriptions of Tasmania John was buried on 29 April 1841 in St. George's Anglican Cemetery, the headstone reads:

To the Memory of
who departed this life
on the 25 April 1841
Aged 67 Years.15

Following John's death Elizabeth Willis (nee Bellinger) effectively disappears. An Elizabeth Ann Willis (27) was married to Thomas Edward Wilson (50) on 17 November 1846 in St. George's Church in Sorell.16 Given Elizabeth Ann's age she would have been born about 1819, and she is indeed recorded as a widower for the event, both of which match Elizabeth Bellinger's status, but unlike the earlier marriage of Elizabeth Bellinger and John Willis this time Elizabeth could sign her name.

On the 17th instant, at Sorell, by the Rev. Mr. Norman, Mr. Thomas Edward Wilson, of the Pembroke Inn, to Miss Elizabeth Ann Willis, of the same place.17

Thomas Edward Wilson was listed as an insolvent in April 1847.18 He was appointed Postmaster at Forcett in October 185819 but died the following month on 4 November 1858 in Sorell.20

DIED. On the 4th November, at his residence, Fawcett, THOMAS EDWARD WILSON, in the 65th year of his age. Friends are respectfully invited to attend his Funeral from his late residence, at 12 o'clock This Day.21

The fate of Elizabeth Willis (nee Bellinger) remains unknown at this time.

John Horton
John Horton's picture
Agnes Elizabeth Willis

It has been reported that Elizabeth Bellinger died as Agnes Elizabeth Willis on 17 October 1895 in Hobart.1 According to the death registration for that event, Agnes was 86 and had died from "old age". The registration also noted that Agnes was widow, and had been born in England. The undertaker, Alex. Clark, was the informant for the event.2

While mis-reporting someone's birth place is not unusual, the use of the name Agnes Elizabeth rather than just Elizabeth does seem out of place. Agnes Elizabeth would have been born about 1809 if we calculate her birth year from the age stated at death, while Elizabeth was born in 1818. The following death notice appeared in the newspaper:

WILLIS.-On October 18, at "Melbourne Lodge," the residence, of her daughter, Mrs. George Salier, Agnes Elizabeth, widow of the late John Willis, aged 86 years.3

The record seems a good match based on the fact that Agnes was a widow of John Willis. Does the existence of a daughter, Mrs. Salier, throw any other light on this event? George Salier married Harriet Mary Willis on 5 March 1846 in Hobart, Tasmania.4 No record of Harriet being born to John Willis and Elizabeth Bellinger exists, but that doesn't rule out that she may have been an unregistered child.

George Salier had been married before to Ann Georgiana Bush on 30 May 1842 in Hobart, Tasmania.5 They had four children before Ann's untimely death on 19 February 1845 in Hobart, Tasmania.6 After George remarried Harriet they would go on to have a further fifteen children, making George the father of nineteen children in all.

George Salier and his wife Harriet were ultimately highly respected citizens of Hobart. George served as a member of the House of Assembly for 20 years. He died on 11 June 1892 in Hobart, Tasmania.7 Harriet died on 4 February 1902, also in Hobart, Tasmania.8 According to the Brownell Family Website, Harriet Mary Willis was born on 18 November 1826 at Grahams Town, South Africa, but no parents are listed.9

As reported on the page above John Willis and Agnes Elizabeth had at least two children that were registered, Marianne Willis was born on 21 March 1837 and baptised on 16 April 1837 in Hobart. John Willis was recorded as an Ordnance Clerk.10 Frances Emmily Willis was born on 13 April 1839 and baptised on 17 June 1839, also in Hobart. John Willis was recorded as a Gentleman.11

Frances Emily is later reported to have moved to Victoria where she died in 1875 at the age of 34 as Frances Gray. On that occasion Frances' parents were recorded as John Willis and Agnes Elizabeth Biggar.12 With that information we then find a John Willis married Agnes Elizabeth Biggar, daughter of Alexander Harvey Biggar and Mary Straton, on 17 February 1825 in Grahamstown, Cape Of Good Hope, South Africa.13

We can be certain then that Agnes Elizabeth Willis is not Elizabeth Bellinger but in fact Agnes Elizabeth Biggar, born in 1810 in Kent, England, who together with her parents and ten siblings, emigrated to South Africa in their father's Party of Settlers on the Weymouth.14