Read their story
Eliza Ann Hall (1821-1902) was born Eliza Sinclair. She emigrated from Scotland’s Orkney Islands in 1851 with an extended family group that included her husband, William Miller, and her mother, Jane Sinclair.
The male breadwinners within their immediate circle all died within a few years of their arrival in South Australia. The surviving women struggled to make a living for themselves and Eliza’s two children. They battled for support from the Destitute Board until Eliza married elderly Mount Barker Springs widower John Hall.
Amongst the many immigrants who came to South Australia in the 1850s was a contingent from Scotland’s Orkney Islands. These included Eliza Ann Miller (née Sinclair), who departed from Plymouth in 1851, aged 30, aboard the Adelaide. She travelled as part of an extended family group from Stronsay comprising her husband, William Miller (33), her daughter Jane (1), her parents James Sinclair (47) and Jane Sinclair (48), her brother Peter Sinclair (26) and sister-in-law Betsy (17), and her brother-in-law Peter Miller (30), who headed a family of five.
Upon their arrival in Adelaide most of the group moved to Mount Barker, where the men found work with farmer Allan Bell (see Bell Family History Post). After six months Eliza’s father James, together with her brother Peter and his wife Betsy, shifted to Mount Crawford to work for agriculturalist and viticulturalist David Randell. From there James and Peter decided to try their luck at the Victorian goldfields, but they found no gold, and James died at the diggings aged 48. Peter returned to Mount Crawford but was killed in a fall from a horse in 1859, leaving his young wife Betsy with three children to support. She later remarried and had seven more children with William Lyddon.
Eliza and her labourer husband William stayed in Mount Barker, where Eliza gave birth to a second daughter in 1852, called Betsy like her aunt; there may also have been a third child who did not survive.
But by 1855 Eliza was herself a widow, William having died at Littlehampton (cause and date of death unknown).
Atypically, Eliza did not immediately remarry. As a single mother she struggled to support her children and her own dependent mother, Jane Sinclair. The nature of Eliza’s work is not recorded, but Jane could only perform occasional work as a washerwoman. By 1856 the family was clearly in distress, and consequently the Mount Barker District Council applied to the Destitute Board in Adelaide for relief rations for “Jane Sinclair, a widow, residing with her daughter, also a Widow, with three children, whom the daughter supports with her own labour.”
The Council’s application was granted, but it was the Destitute Board’s policy to provide relief only for periods of two months at a time, and it was reluctant to accede to repeated requests. In 1857, when Jane had been on the books for 15 months, a public dispute was played out at a meeting of the Board over whether to continue her support.
On one side of the argument were the Dean of Adelaide (James Farrell), and the Very Reverend Michael Ryan, who both worried that the Destitute Board would end up giving rations to Jane for the rest of her life. Ryan maintained that “it was very hard upon the colony for people to bring out their aged parents, and then neglect supporting them,” and that rather than receiving relief at home she ought to be required to move to the Destitute Asylum; this requirement, he said, would be a “good test” of the degree of her distress. The Dean concurred, commenting that the Destitute Board was entrusted with public money not to “dispense charity,” but “merely for the sake of preventing absolute destitution.”
On the other side of the argument was the District Council of Mount Barker, which tendered a letter arguing that as Jane was “seventy-one years of age and incapable of supporting herself,” that was good enough reason to supply her with relief. The Council was backed up by the Secretary of the Destitute Board (Edward Holthouse), who pointed out that since the husbands of both Jane and Eliza had died after their arrival at the colony they could hardly be blamed for their failure to make provision. The Reverend Robert Haining agreed, adding that the very elderly were surely proper objects of relief, and that it would be a hardship to part mother and daughter by committing Jane to the Asylum.
Following the Board meeting the editors of the South Australian Register weighed into the discussion, commenting in their edition of 1 April 1857 that Jane’s need was sufficiently proven for action to be taken without the threat of incarceration. They continued:
As to compelling her to enter the Asylum, it is inexpedient as well as harsh.
She would cost more in the Asylum than out of it. She would eat the same rations, and in addition she would have to be clothed and lodged at the public expense. Out of the Asylum she and her daughter might continue to scrape together a humble living through the help of the one ration, and we therefore think it would be needlessly cruel to separate two women, mother and daughter, both widows, both whose husbands came out with them to the colony and expected to maintain them.
Jane’s provision at home was reinstated, but only on a temporary basis requiring the usual regular reapplication. In 1862 the Board decided to pull the plug, declaring that, despite all arguments to the contrary, both Jane Sinclair and another “aged” Mount Barker widow, Sarah Mulcaire, should be taken off relief rations and moved into the Destitute Asylum, allowing the Asylum to benefit from “any work they may be able to perform.” The Board additionally noted that their incarceration would provide a cautionary example to others.
In passing, the Dean declared himself pleased that cases such as Jane and Eliza’s had been so thoroughly canvassed in the newspapers, implying that the coverage constituted a kind of public shaming that would serve as a deterrent to anybody who might be considering asking for help. He commented that “the simple fact of each case being known to all the neighbours of the applicant [goes] far, there could be little doubt, in keeping back applications from any but the really destitute.”
In the event, Jane never went to live in the Destitute Asylum (although Sarah Mulcaire may have done so). In 1863, less than a year after the Board’s ultimatum, 42-year-old Eliza married 74-year-old widower John Hall (1788-1872) and took her family to live at John’s property ‘Maryfield’ at Mount Barker Springs. John remade his will so that Eliza would have the right to remain at ‘Maryfield’ throughout her life, after which the property would revert to his heirs from his first marriage.
John’s attitude to Jane is not recorded, but he was good to Eliza’s two girls, Jane and Betsy Miller, and he favoured them both with small bequests in his will. Jane Miller eventually married local man Thomas Calaby, and the Calaby family eventually moved in with Eliza at ‘Maryfield,’ where she died in 1902, aged 80 (see William Calaby History Post). Betsy Miller remained single throughout her life; when she died in Mt Barker in 1928, aged 76, she was lamented by friends from Mount Barker Springs who missed her “kind and helping hand.”
The Hall/Sinclair/Miller headstone is unusual in that it memorialises three generations of women, without any reference to the men who featured in their lives. John Hall does not get a mention, and Betsy’s brief inscription simply reads “Daughter of E.A. Hall,” restating the theme of mothers and daughters that had characterised the family throughout most of their time in the colony.
The women’s headstone states that when Jane Sinclair died in 1884 (at ‘Maryfield’) she was 99 years old, but this is implausible: she was born ca. 1804, and had emigrated at about the age of 48 in 1852. If she died in 1884 (or 1883, as other documentation suggests) she would then have been about 80 years of age. The twist in this tale is that when she went before the Destitute Board as an “aged widow” in 1856 she must in fact have been closer to 52 years old than the 71 years that she claimed.
Finally, it should be recorded that not all the Sinclair/Millers who arrived in the family group from Orkney in 1852 met with disaster. Eliza’s brother-in-law, Peter Miller, his wife Janet and their children first went to Mount Crawford, then settled at ‘Braeside’ at South Rhine, between Springton and Eden Valley, in 1860. There they established a dairy farm and never looked back. A number of other Scots settled in the area, including other families from Orkney. The Millers thrived in this environment for generations, and Miller descendants live in the area to this day.
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