Family Life and Bushrangers

The year after their arrival Samuel and Jane celebrated the birth of another child and named him William Atkins. William was born on 22 January 1843 and baptized on 26 February 1843. For the baptism registration Samuel is listed as a labourer at Circular Head, employed by the V.D.L. Co.1

Samuel Atkins’ debit account with the V.D.L. Company for 1843 is available and from the ledger it can be seen that Samuel maintained various accounts to cover dairy produce, postage and general stores. The postage may have been applied by the company for the delivery of stores, or Samuel may have been maintaining some contact with his family in England. If the latter is true no letters have survived to confirm the fact. His pay was docked because he was off from work on one occasion. On the Credit side of the ledger Samuel Atkins was paid £2-1’8 every month for the same period amounting to £25.2

The 1844 ledger shows Samuel paying for freight on the Eagle in January, and the normal provision and stores returns. The ledger continues until January 1845 and then stops. For the period 1 January 1844 to 31 January 1845 Samuel was paid £38-5’11.3 By 31 January 1845 Samuel was no longer on the V.D.L. Co. books and was renting his property on Murray's Road.4

Samuel and Jane had their sixth child, Thomas Henry Atkins, on 17 August 1846 in the Horton district. Thomas was baptized on 25 October 1846 and this time Samuel is recorded as a farmer at Circular Head, Forest.5 Thomas was followed by Elizabeth, born on 16 March 1849 and baptized on 13 May 1849. Once again Samuel was described as a farmer at Forest.6

The Atkins family now comprised James, age 18, Mary Ann, 16 or 17, Samuel, 12, Jane, 10, William, 7, Thomas, 3, and the infant Elizabeth. Samuel, Jane and William were attending the local school as they are recorded on a Return of the Pupils in the Forest “Boys and Girls” Day School for the Quarter ending 31st March 1849. Samuel was admitted to the school on 14 February 1848, was recorded as age 11, had mastered reading, writing and arithmetic, but had left school on January 9th, 1849. His progress was satisfactory.7

Samuel Atkins is listed on a “Tenantry Return Circular Head 31 August 1849” as residing on section no. 32, having 1 wife and 5 children. He had 3 free servants and 1 other woman. Samuel was renting 80 acres and had cleared 41 acres. 12 acres were sown with potatoes, 25 acres with Wheat and 4 acres with turnips. Samuel was also running nine cattle and 12 swine.8

The Atkins’ children Jane and William continue to appear on later Returns of the Circular Head Forest School for the Quarters ending June and September 1849. In the last return Jane is noted as admitted to the school on 14 February 1848 and William on 14 April 1848, but even though it was over a year later they had only attended 21 and 39 days respectively. Jane was recorded as age 7 ½, had progressed to Long Division, and had achieved a standard of “satisfactory”. William was recorded as age 6 ¼, was writing and had achieved numeracy, and was also marked as satisfactory.9

Mary Ann, the Atkins eldest daughter, was now 17, and like her brothers and sisters was obviously literate. Mary Ann married the butcher of Stanley, John Williams, on 25 March 1850 in St. Paul’s Church, Stanley, and was able to sign her name for the event. John was recorded as a widower, age 28, and Mary Ann a spinster, age 17. Samuel Atkins, the bride’s father, was a witness to the event along with a Mary White.10

The family of Samuel and Jane was not complete however as on 3 February 1852 Eliza Ann Atkins was born in Horton. They had her baptized on 21 March 1852.11

In September 1853 the Atkins family were involved in a skirmish with the bushrangers Henry Bradley and Patrick O’Connor. The pair had been employed in the area as ticket of leave pass holders, their extensive past history unknown and apparently behind them. The breaking news report detailed what happened:

HORRIBLE MURDER AT CIRCULAR HEAD.

We are indebted to a correspondent for the following particulars of an atrocious murder perpetrated at Circular Head by two passholders, said to be from Norfolk Island: Henry Bradley and -O'Connor, passholders, the former in the service of Mr. George Kay, and the latter in the service of James Gibson, Esq., and receiving high wages, without any cause whatever left their employment on Tuesday night, the 14th September, and proceeded to the hut of Mr. Jonathan House, and having tied up the two men, took a double barrelled gun. They then visited the residence of Mr. John Spinks, tied up the whole family, and possessed themselves of another double barrelled gun. After this they left for the farm of Mr. Staines, about five miles off in the forest, and after tying Mr. Staines and another man together, compelled a servant of the name of Smith to accompany them, saying they were going to Mr. John House's - the adjoining farm. On arriving there they took a man servant of Mr. House's with Smith, and proceeded to the cottage; a little boy, son of Mr. House, opened the door, when the ruflians spoke in a sharp manner, saying they would shoot him ; this brought out of his bedroom Mr. Alfred Phillips, a relative of Mr. House. The runaways demanded Mr. House, and to be shown into his bedroom. They tied Mr. Phillips and the man servant together by the legs, necks, and hands, and forced them into the bedroom of the daughters. Mr. House, on hearing what was going on, escaped out of the window, and ran off to the next farm for assistance. Bradley ran round and fired two shots, which fortunately neither took effect. Bradley came back again, saying the b____ fellow had got off. O'Connor then replied tlhat they would not be disappointed, and immediately discharged both barrels at Mr. Phillips through the neck, causing instant death ; and this dreadful deed in the bedroom, and in the presence of Mr. house's daughters. It is believed these men originally went with the view of taking Mr. IHouse's life, considering they would possess themselves of a large sum of money - in which they were mistaken, only getting about £5; Mr. House having made it a rule not to keep a large sum in the house. Shortly after committing this sad act of violence on a most respectable unoffending young man in the prime of life, and throwing a highly respectable family into the greatest alarm (and which has since caused them to break up their comfortable home and to come into the township to reside), they started off and called at the farm of Mr. Atkins, near the Black River. Only Mrs. Atkins being at home, they ordered breakfast, and told her they had taken to the bush, which she would not believe, having several times seen the man Bradley -O'Connor only having been a few weeks here, and in no other service but Mr. Gibson's. They then crossed the river, and called at the hut of Mr. Wm. Medwin : on this occasion only Mrs. Medwin was at home : they took another gun and a small quantity of provisions, and proceeded towards Table Cape. Near this place they suddenly met a constable and another man, coming from Emu Bay to Circular Head with the mail from the schooner "Ariel," wrecked at Emu Bay. The constable endeavored to ascertain some particulars of these men, when they both fired and shot the constable through the arm ; the night being dark the constable and his companion managed to get off through the scrub, notwithstanding several shots were fired at them. Immediately on the murder being known, F. W. Ford, Esq., and a large party of the inhabitants started off in pursuit, and although they left four of their party at Table Cape River, these runaways managed to take the schooner "Sophia," which vessel was loaded for Melbourne, and escape. On getting out, the vessel took the bar, on which they caused half the cargo to be thrown overhead. They took on board the schooner Mr. Wigmore, and kept him tied to the mast in order to prevent the people on shore from firing at them, and on finally leaving they sent him and the man Smith on shore. They have taken away, besides the crew, two shipwrights, who had been sent down to repair the "Ellen and Mary." The inhabitants have offered a reward of £100 for their capture. Such a cold blooded murder is hardly known to have been committed in this island before, and by men in good situations, with high wages, and not in any trouble. It is believed that both are from Norfolk Island. Despatches have been forwarded to the authorities at Melbourne, in the hope of getting the men there. The vessel belonged to Mr. Beaver, of Melbourne, and the cargo to a Mr. Jones, of the same place, the charterer, who was on board and taken away.12

Their rampage continued in Victoria where they committed further robberies and murders. They were ultimately caught, tried and executed, see the Henry Bradley and Patrick O’Connor page in the Bushrangers section. The incident must have alarmed the Atkins family, and according to later reports the House family moved into Town as they were frighted of the isolation of their farm.

The Atkins family persisted, on 3 February 1855 Samuel and Jane’s last child Charlotte Maria Atkins was born in the district of Horton. Charlotte was baptized in St. Paul’s Church, Stanley on 23 March 1855. Charlotte was recorded as an Unknown Female (F.) for the state birth registration.13 Samuel’s abode and occupation for the last two baptisms had remained unchanged, being recorded as a farmer at Forest.

After the early years of child bearing and dealing with the harshness of their environment, including marauding bushrangers, the Atkins family descendants began to settle down. On 22 January 1857 Jane Atkins married George Gough Eastman.14 George was born about 1835 and arrived in the colony as a convict. Strangely enough he was baptized on 28 February 1859 in Circular Head with his parents recorded as George and Elizabeth Eastman. His date of birth was recorded as 1834. Whether the late event was the result of a religious conversion or because George and Jane’s children were now being baptized is not known at this point.15

Jane was followed by her oldest brother James who married Mary Ann Wootten on 3 April 1862 in the Black Forest Church.16 Mary Ann had previously been married to John Baker, the son of John Baker and Margaret Coventry, but the relationship had broken down. No children have been traced for James and Mary Ann as it would appear the marriage lasted just over a year. Mary Ann is recorded as marrying Henry Stretton the following year on 21 August 1863 in the house of her father, Mr. T. Wootten.17 Even so, when Mary Ann died she was identified as the wife of James Atkins.

James’ younger brother Samuel Atkins Jnr married six months after James to Louisa Helen Shackle on 3 October 1862 in the Horton district.18 Louisa was born in 1843 in the Longford district, the daughter of William Skackell and an unknown mother. The couple would have nine children, seven born in Tasmania and the last two in Victoria after Samuel and Louisa emigrated around 1877.19

William Atkins married next on 6 February 1864 to Margaret Louisa Gray.20 Margaret was born on 26 May 1845 in the Horton district to Thomas Gray and Mary McGuire.21 Margaret had a twin sister Clorinda. William and Margaret would have six children between 1864 and 1878.

By 1865 the Atkins family had been reduced to Samuel and Jane, and their children Thomas, Elizabeth, Eliza Ann and Charlotte, the other children having moved off to start their own families. In 1866 Samuel Atkins was recorded in a list of Circular Head residents for the Directory of Tasmania as a farmer on Black River Road.22

Two years later Samuel and Jane’s daughter Eliza Ann (17) married John Thomas Perkins (20) on 11 May 1868 in the Black River Church. Eliza’s sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law George Eastman were the recorded witnesses, with John described as a farmer, age 20, and Eliza as a spinster, age 17. Both parties were able to sign their name.23 John was the oldest son of Samuel Perkins and Ellen Love and was born on 12 January 1850 in Tasmania.24 John and Eliza would have six children that have been identified.

Just under two years later Eliza’s older sister Elizabeth married George Blizzard on 18 January 1870 in the Black River Forest Chapel. The brides’ father Samuel Atkins witnessed the event along with the grooms’ sister Harriett Blizzard. George was recorded as 34 years old and a farmer, while Elizabeth was 21 and a spinster.25 George was the son of George Blizzard and Phoebe Blake. Both the Blizzards and the Blakes were prominent Circular Head or North-West Coast families. The Blizzards were another family from the Norfolk/Suffolk area who had been recruited as indentured servants. They arrived on the Trade Wind in February 1858.26 George Jnr was born about 1846 in Suffolk and he and Elizabeth Atkins would have seven children between 1870 and 1883.

By the end of 1870 only Charlotte of the Atkins girls remained to get married, and this she did with William Haywood on 30 November 1870 in the Horton district.27 William was born on 28 December 1845 in Longford to John Haywood and Mary Reeve who had moved from Longford to Horton the year after William’s birth.28 William and Charlotte had six children.

By 1875 Samuel and Jane were now in their sixties with over 35 grandchildren and even some great grandchildren to keep their lives busy and interesting. Nearly all their descendants were living in the district of Horton, at least until 1877 when Samuel Atkins Jnr. emigrated to Victoria. Over the years they had suffered remarkably few deaths in their family, with all of their children surviving to adulthood in an era known for a high rate of infant mortality. The tide was turning however, as on 10 August 1879 Samuel and Jane’s son William died from consumption, an archaic reference to Pulmonary Tuberculosis.29

Later the same year Thomas Henry Atkins married Elizabeth Annie Williams on 10 December 1879 in the church of St. George at Montagu. Thomas was recorded as age 30 and a farmer, while Elizabeth was recorded as age 15 and a farmer’s daughter. Henry Williams, the bride’s father, witnessed the event, along with John Perkins and Fanny Saward. Thomas made his mark on the marriage register indicating he couldn’t write.30

Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1864 in the Horton district, the oldest child and daughter of Henry William Williams and Louisa Choat.31 Henry’s parents in turn were John Williams and Rosanna Brown and they had arrived in the district in 1842 aboard the “Adelaide”. John’s sister Rachel was married to George Henry Saward and the William’s and Saward’s families had a great number of descendants living throughout the region. Thomas and Elizabeth Atkins had a large family of 12 children between 1881 and 1905.

Another tragedy befell the family when Samuel and Jane’s eldest son James died on 5 August 1880 in Horton. The cause of death was recorded as 'hemiplegia from concussion of the spine'.32 The exact nature of his death was revealed in the following newspaper report.

FATAL ACCIDENT.---Our Circular Head correspondent informs us of' the death of Mr James Atkins, of Rocky -Cape. He left his farm on Saturday, 31st July, for Stanley, and when a little on the western side of the Detention bridge he was thrown from his horse, and remained all that day and nearly the next night on the damp ground, unable to move, until discovered by Mr Dobson, who had been into Stanley, and was returning home. After some delay a cart and horse were obtained, and Mr Atkins was removed to the house of Mr J. H. Boys, and placed as before a fire to obtain warmth, and his wife was sent for. For more readily obtaining medical advice he was removed to his father's residence, Black River, where he received every care and attention, but never revived, and succumbed on Friday following; the cause of death 'being concussion of the spine. He was 48 years of age, and leaves a wife, but no family.33

Tuberculosis was still ravaging the area as Eliza Ann Perkins, wife of John Perkins, died on the 16 October 1881 of pulmonary consumption.34 John was left to raise the couple’s six children with the youngest being only three years old.

  • 1. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1843/375 and AOT Baptism Registration NS 884/14 no. 28
  • 2. AOT Van Diemen’s Land Company Records VDL XX
  • 3. AOT Van Diemen’s Land Company Records VDL XX
  • 4. Unknown Reference
  • 5. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1846/463 and AOT Baptism Registration NS 884/14 no. 99
  • 6. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1849/516 and AOT Baptism Registration NS 884/14 no. 146
  • 7. AOT Miscellaneous Correspondence Records Relating to Church Matters, The Provision of Schools by the Company, and the Reservation of Land for Cemetaries VDL 17
  • 8. AOT Tenantry Return Circular Head VDL ???
  • 9. AOT Miscellaneous Correspondence Records Relating to Church Matters, The Provision of Schools by the Company, and the Reservation of Land for Cemetaries VDL 17
  • 10. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1850/595
  • 11. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1852/236 and AOT Baptism Registration NS 884/14 no. 206
  • 12. Launceston Examiner Tuesday 27 September 1853
  • 13. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1855/413 and AOT Baptism Registration NS 884/14 no. 266
  • 14. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1857/102
  • 15. AOT Baptism Registration NS884/1/14
  • 16. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1862/127
  • 17. Doug Stewart: Lorelle Foxcroft Australian Lineage; http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/s/t/e/Doug-R-Stewart/WEBSITE-...
  • 18. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1862/134
  • 19. Robson, Doris: Atkins Genealogy Papers
  • 20. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1864/79
  • 21. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1845/431
  • 22. Directory of Tasmania, Residents of Circular Head, transcribed and recorded at http://www.rootsweb.com/~austas/circhead66.htm
  • 23. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1868/345
  • 24. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1850/539
  • 25. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1870/334
  • 26. AOT Index to passengers & ships arrivals - 19th Century CB7/12/1/8 P130
  • 27. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1870/346
  • 28. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1846/660
  • 29. AOT Death Registration RGD 1879/275
  • 30. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1879/723
  • 31. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1864/982
  • 32. AOT Death Registration RGD 1880/350
  • 33. "AGRICULTURAL NOTES." Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) 13 Aug 1880: 2. Web. 26 Apr 2014; http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article38261431.
  • 34. AOT Death Registration RGD 1881/314