Lucy: A private life revealed through public records - Public Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)
Lucy Sarah Bell’s story is representative of many
nineteenth-century women. A farmer’s wife, and mother to several children, Lucy
did not lead a public life. Her story
is one of incredible hardship and loss coupled with a bureaucratic battle to
secure land in the new state of Victoria, Australia.
By Public Record Office Victoria
This exhibition is intended as an educational tool for new family researchers.
The archival record series' used in this exhibition can help paint a picture of someone's life.
This is the story of a girl who arrived in Victoria as an 11 year old called Lucy Bell.
LUCY BELL ARRIVES IN AUSTRALIA (1855)
Lucy Bell arrived with her
family in the Colony of Victoria on 20 April 1855. The Bell
family sailed with two hundred and twenty other government-assisted immigrants
from Liverpool in England to
Geelong in Victoria aboard the ship Sir Charles Napier, a journey that took
Like many other new arrivals to the colony,
Lucy’s family left the Immigrant’s Depot at Geelong ‘on their own account’ to head to the Goldfields. The Bells made their way to a mining area just south of Ballarat.
Which Records did we use for this research? PROV, VPRS 14/P0 Register of Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom, 1839-71, unit 16, book 12, folio 56. A searchable online index currently exists to search passenger names to Victoria at www.prov.vic.gov.au.
LUCY’S FIRST MARRIAGE
At the age of twenty, on 16 October 1863, Lucy met and married a Swiss immigrant, John Singer. Their first child, Charles Leopold, was born at Whim Holes in the District of Buninyong in 1865; Lucy Caroline was born in 1866 and Agatha Katherine in 1872. Details of this marriage and their children are found on records at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
JOHN SINGER LICENCES CROWN LAND
By the time of Agatha’s birth, John Singer and Lucy Bell had applied for and been issued licences to occupy two adjoining allotments of land (80 acres) in the parishes of Yarrowee and Lynchfield. Under the Land Act 1869, he had to fulfil certain requirements to occupy and cultivate the land. The Land Act is made of many different leasing arrangements, and the number connected to the act is a clue to the circumstances on which they could occupy the land.
On 16 June 1873, John Singer died suddenly of strangulated Hernia, leaving his widow with three children, including a small baby. Lucy’s position on the land became very complicated and uncertain because John Singer died without a will.
sought to obtain letters of administration to then administer her
deceased husband’s estate. She failed to secure the estate because she neither lived nor cultivated the land, she wrote desperately to the Minister of Lands asking him to reconsider.
'Sir, will you please reconsider your decision about the cultivation condition … I beg of you to remember that I am only a woman and am not able to clear and fence off the land myself nor am I able to employ any other’. Lucy Singer
During this time Lucy remarried, this time to Mr Peter Campbell in 1874, her sister's brother-in-law. Lucy and Peter had a son, Henry, who was born in 1875. He survived only three days. They also had a daughter, Rose Jane, born in 1876.
At this point in time the Probate Office required her new husband’s agreement before it would issue letters of administration to her for the land she had worked on with her deceased husband prior to his death. Peter Campbell wrote to the Probate Office.
Campbell finally obtained the grant of the Yarrowee land in 1880 from the Probate Office seven years after John Singer's death.
Which Records did we use for this
The Land Selection Files document Lucy's attempt to purchase her deceased husband's land and the Probate and Administration Files hold records about the final approval for the granting of her husband's licence into her name.
The trail of records from Lucy Singer/Campbell to the Minister for Lands, and to the Probate Office, include many pieces of correspondence, zoom in on some of these documents to take a closer look. After that, find out what happened to Lucy?
VPRS 28/P0 Probate and Administration Files, unit 169, item
VPRS 28/P2 Probate and Administration Files, unit 48, item
PRS 625/P0 Land Selection Files, sections 19 and 20, unit 78, item 4127/19.20.
VPRS 627/P0 Land Selection Files, unit 174, item 15159/31.
Lucy died on the evening of Thursday 29 January, 1885.
She was 42 years old. She had gone to the nearby waterhole to collect 'fancy' ferns.
When her daughter Agatha went to assist her she found no trace of her mother, except for her hat. Peter Campbell pulled his wife from the water but she was already dead.
The magisterial inquiry was undertaken by Mr Frederick Ingle JP. It was his duty to ensure that nothing suspicious had occurred. Mr Ingle interviewed Lucy’s family and other witnesses who helped pull Lucy from the pond. He found that Lucy Sarah Campbell drowned accidentally.
“...On the evening of the 29th I asked my sister Lucy where my mother was, she told me she had gone to the water hole to collect ferns, I went after her to assist her and when I got there I found her hat on the boards but could see nothing of my mother...my step father and mother always lived on good terms as far as I know.” Agatha Singer, coroners inquest deponent.
“..we recovered her body from the water and at once tried to restore animation without effect.”
Peter Campbell's deposition from the Victorian inquest files.
Which Records did we use for this research?
VPRS 24/P0 Inquest Deposition Files, unit 478, item 1885.
VPRS 28/P0 Probate and Administration Files, unit 382, item 31/742.
Following Lucy Campbell’s death, her first child (with John Singer) Charles Leopold Singer assumed responsibility for the administration of his father’s estate.
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the donors of
material for the reproduction of this story as an online exhibition. In particular we would like to thank Mr Tony
Leviston and Mrs Eleanor George, descendants of Lucy, for their assistance, and
Anne Beggs-Sunter and the Buninyong and District Historical Society. The PROV
staff who compiled the material are: Louisa Scott, Joan Hunt, Colin Kemp,
Daniel Wilksch, Diane Gardiner, Sebastian Gurciullo, and Kyle Young.
Contributor: —Asa Letourneau, Content Editor
Contributor: —Kate Follington, Content Editor
Contributor: —Colin Kemp, Digitisation
Contributor: —Charlie Spiteri, Additional Research
Contributor: —Sebastian Gurciullo, Original Curator