Benjamin Cheeseman (1829-c1856) and
Jane Bass (1826-88)
in Australia

(7 August 2020)

Annie was still an infant when the family emigrated to Australia as assisted passengers on the sailing ship Calliope. This embarked from Southampton on 3 February 1853 and arrived at Port Phillip in the colony of Victoria on 18 May of the same year. The ship's list records that Benjamin was a shepherd, aged 24 years, Jane was 25, Alfred was three, Herbert was one and Fanny an infant. It also noted that both parents could read and write. Accompanying Benjamin and Jane and their family on the voyage out was Jane's illegitimate son Thomas, then aged 5 years, who was said then and on his subsequent marriage and death certificates to be the couple's son. Also on board was Jane's 20 year-old sister, Emily Bass. The ship's records show that Benjamin and Jane had been contracted to work for a James Egan of the Major's Line station near Heathcote in Victoria for a period of six months for which they were to be paid fifty pounds plus rations. Emily Bass had also been engaged to work for Egan as a domestic servant. She later went to Castlemaine where she married James Oseen, a storekeeper, in 1858. Sadly, she died from the effects of dysentry four years later. Click here to read more about her short life and those of her siblings.

mcivor property 1852James Egan, known locally as 'one-armed Egan' after he lost an arm in a shooting accident in 1847, came from King's County in Ireland and purchased the lease to the Major's Line sheep station - a run of some 5100 acres - in April 1842. He later owned the Wild Duck Hotel near Heathcote. On the year of Benjamin and Jane's arrival, the home block was said to contain 'a good house, kitchen and sleeping rooms, a 12-stalled stable, a store with sleeping rooms attached, a woolshed and stockyards'. Prior to the discovery of gold at nearby McIvor Creek in October 1852, the non-aboriginal population of the area was estimated to be around 400. There may have been as many as 20,000 in the area at the time of Benjamin and Jane's arrival including, according to a visitor to the McIvor diggings, 'the very worst class of humanity. Horse stealing, theft, and robbery with violence were of daily occurrence and, if their victims resisted in an effort to protect their property, there were cases where [the] robbers did not scruple to murder' (cited in J. O. Randell, McIvor: A History of the Shire and the Township of Heathcote (Burwood: Brown Prior Anderson, 1985: 13-14).The same author noted that hordes of miners and others began, from the beginning of 1854, to leave the area for the newly discovered diggings at Maryborough. By 1 June 1854, the population of Heathcote had dwindled to around 2,000 and by year's end there were no more than 800 men still working the McIvor field.

It seems after completing their contract with Egan, Benjamin and Jane also left Heathcote for the Maryborough goldfields where, like thousands of others, they hoped to make their fortune. Some idea of what they would be confronted by can be obtained from a short report of the diggings published in the Mount Alexander Mail on 10 November 1854. This informed its readers that 'two new gullies have been opened in the present week, one near McCallum's Creek, called Waterloo Gully, and another between the head of Blackman's Gully and Carisbrook. It has not yet been ascertained', the report continued, 'whether either is likely to turn out rich. Crime is on the decrease. Population [is currently] estimated at 10,000, including 2,000 women and children É [and] The field is generally healthy'. Some time after this Benjamin died where the versions of what actually happened to him differ slightly. Some in the family thought he died of thirst on the 'Old Man's Plains' while trying to walk to the Orange goldfields in New South Wales. Others thought he was found wandering in a state of delirium on the 'Emu Plains' and was taken to the Ararat mental asylum where he died soon after admission (this was more likely Jane's second husband, William Henry Robinson - see below). Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no official record of Benjamin's death or of his burial - his final whereabouts remains a mystery.

ararat diggings

Gold diggings at Ararat in Victoria in 1853

jane bassAfter Benjamin's death or disappearance, Jane (pictured on the right) is said to have worked as a governess and seamstress at the Bet Bet station near Maryborough. It was here she met and was said to have married a William Henry Robinson (there is no record of their marriage). Robinson subsequently died in the Ararat Lunatic Asylum of a 'disease of the brain' on 20 May 1869. He was aged 50 years. William and Jane had no children. While at Bet Bet, Jane (now known as Clara Jane) heard of the death by accident of her third son Herbert William Cheeseman (1851-62). Herbert seemed to be known as Alfred when he was in Victoria which has caused some confusion among family members (Teen believes, for example, that Alfred and Herbert were twins although there is no other evidence to support this). Herbert/Alfred was born in Hythe in Kent on 5 January 1851 and emigrated to Australia in 1853 with his parents and siblings. Sometime before his death on 18 September 1862 he began working as a dairy boy on a farm at Bung Bong near Avoca. As reported in the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser, he died from injuries sustained in an accident that was the subject of an official inquest

... held before Dr Laidman on Friday, at Bung Bong, on the body of a boy named Alfred Cheeseman, who met his death by a fall from a horse on the previous Wednesday. Deceased was a dairy boy to Mr Moody of Bung Bong, and left home on horseback to get back a bullock, but having been away until sundown, Mrs moody (who gave evidence) went to look for him, and found him lying under a small tree in the paddock not a quarter of a mile from the house. He said he had fallen off the horse and been hurt. The horse - a very quiet animal - had got itself to the paddock by itself. Mrs Moody carried the boy in and laid him on the sofa where he died. Dr South who had made the necessary post mortem examination, proved that the liver was extensively ruptured, which might have been the result of concussion and probably was so. Haemorrhage from the liver was the cause of death. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the evidence (22 September 1862).

Herbert was buried in the Protestant section of the Avoca cemetery on 20 September 1962. His death certificate, which was informed by Charles T. Robards, a neighbour from Bung Bong, states his father was 'Benjamin Cheeseman gardener', and his mother was 'Jane Robertson [sic] (married before to B. Cheeseman)'. After the death of her second husband, William Henry Robinson in 1869, Clara Jane went back to Carngham where she lived with her sons Thomas and Alfred and their families until her death at Madden's Flat on 26 November 1888. Her death was reported in the Ballarat Star on 29 November 1888 as follows: 'Mrs Robinson, of Snake Valley, who had been ailing for some considerable time (writes a correspondent) expired peacefully at her son's residence at Madden's Flat on Monday last. The funeral, which took place on Wednesday afternoon, was attended by a very large number of the residents and sorrowing relatives, the deceased having been a very old identity of Carngham'. Her death certificate, which was informed by her eldest son Thomas, states Jane was a labourer's widow, had died from cancer of the uterus, and had been 36 years in the colony. What of her and Benjamin's remaining children?

Benjamin and Jane's son, Alfred John Cheeseman (1849-1922), had married Jane Elizabeth Wright (1849-1911) in the Church of England at Carngham on 16 May 1870 (the couple are pictured on the left). After living for a time in the Riverina district of New South Wales, they spent the rest of their married lives at Carngham and later Beaufort in Victoria and had thirteen children between 1871 and 1895. Click here to read a more detailed account of their and their childrens lives and times.

Jane and Benjamin's only daughter, Frances Mary Hannah ('Annie') Cheeseman (1852-1919), married Nathaniel Lucas (1844-1932) at Carngham on 5 December 1870 and had seven children between 1872 and 1889. They lived in a number of places before settling in Shepparton in Victoria where Annie died in 1919 and Nathaniel in 1932. Click here to read of their life, times and descendants.

Alfred and Annie's brother Thomas George Cheeseman (1846-1908) was born at Hythe in Kent on 4 May 1846, the illegitimate son of Jane Bass and a local labourer, George Hayward. The 1851 census shows him living at Hythe with his grandparents Thomas and Frances (Harriet) Bass and his uncle Robert Bass, a fisherman. Thomas came to Australia with Benjamin and Jane Cheeseman and their family in 1853 and, like Alfred, eventually settled at Carngham. On 26 September 1867, he married Ann Eliza Cobold (1848-72), the daughter of George Cobold and Sarah Yates, after banns at the local Church of England at Smythsdale in Victoria. He was a labourer and bachelor aged 21 years, she was a 20 year-old spinster. The wedding certificate states that Thomas' parents were Benjamin Cheeseman, a labourer, and 'Jane Robinson (by second husband)' whose maiden name was Bass. It also shows that both Thomas and Eliza were both living at Carngham at the time of the wedding, which was witnessed by Alfred John Cheeseman and Ellen Cobold.

Ann Cheeseman nee Cobold died at Carngham in January 1872, we don't think that she and Thomas had any children. The following year Thomas married a widow and seamstress, Sarah Ann Shaw (1848-1922), at the Holy Trinity Church at Carngham on 6 August 1873. Sarah, born Sarah Ann Stokes, came from Little Storton in Bedfordshire in England. Her parents were William and Frances Stokes (nee Bonnett) and she had four children by her previous marriage (one of whom, Margaret Shaw aged 12 years, died of diptheria in 1879). The wedding was witnessed by Thomas' sister, Frances Mary Lucas, and John Stokes. Their certificate of marriage shows that Thomas was then living at Carngham and working as a miner and that his parents were Benjamin Langford Cheeseman, a 'deceased labourer', and 'Jane Robinson, late Cheeseman (Bass)'. The couple lived at Snake Valley and Preston Hill near Carngham after their marriage and had seven children: Thomas Langford Cheeseman (1874-1935), Frances Jane Cheeseman (1877-1966), George Alfred Cheeseman (1880-1964), Charles Cheeseman (1883-1949), Margaret Shaw Cheeseman (1885-1968), Ellen Eliza Cheeseman (1887-1968) and James Robert Cheeseman (1890-1977).

Thomas was said to be a carpenter at the time of his death at his residence on Ballarat Road at Preston Hill near Carngham on 8 August 1908. He was buried at Carngham cemetery three days later. His death certificate, which was informed by his son George Alfred Cheeseman, states he was born at Hythe in Kent and had been 58 years in Victoria. His issue at the time of his death were: Thomas Langford (34), Frances Jane (30), George Alfred (28), Charles (25), Margaret Shaw, Ellen Eliza (20) and James Robert Cheeseman (18). After Thomas' death, his widow Sarah lived for a time at Preston Hill before moving to Smythsdale where she died on 4 January 1922. She is buried next to Thomas at the Carngham cemetery. What of their seven children?

1. Thomas Langford Cheeseman, (1874-1935) sometime publican of the United States Hotel at Snake Valley, enlisted in the First AIF and embarked from Melbourne on the RMS ORONTES on 16 August 1916. He served in the 39th Battalion and was wounded in action in France in June 1917. Thomas returned to Australia on 30 April 1919. Before the war Thomas had married a widow, Annie Merifield nee Facey (1864-1949), at Carngham in 1899. Annie was the daughter of Robert Francis Facey and Annie Duffey. She was earlier married to Frederick William Merifield and had at least three children with him - Francis William (1888), Richard Spencer (1892) and Christopher Charles Merifield (1898) - before Frederick's death at Carngham in 1898.

The electoral rolls show after their marriage Thomas and Annie lived at Preston Hill in Snake Valley (where they ran for a time the United States Hotel) until at least 1914. It seems that they separated after the war with Thomas living initially back at Snake Valley and then at Ballarat where he died in 1935. His wife Annie was living with her son Richard Spencer Merifield and family at Geelong West at the time of the 1919 and 1931 elections. She seems not to have remarried and died at Geelong in 1949. Annie and Thomas had only one child we are aware of, Thomas George Cheeseman (1900-1909), who as the Riponshire Advocate reported on 13 November 1909, accidently drowned at Snake Valley in a water hole known as the Blue Dam:

A sad drowning fatality occurred at Snake Valley on Saturday; two boys who were returning from a shooting excursion, being the victims. Thomas cheeseman nine years of age and son of the licensee of the United States Hotel, and William Suttie eight years of age left their homes early in the morning and as they did not return in the evening some relatives and friends formed a search party. At about midnight the boys clothing was found on the bank of a water hole known as the blue dam, and in about four feet of water Thomas Charles Suttie stepped on the body of his brother. He lifted it to the surface and then fainted. He also was in danger of drowning but was rescued in time. CheesemanŐs body was then brought up. The bodies were removed to the respective homes where most pathetic scenes were witnessed. The interrment took place on Monday at the Carngham cemetery. There was a large gathering of sympathisers. A verdict of accidental drowning was returned.

2. Frances Jane Cheeseman (1877-1966) married George Robert Wright (1878-1944), eldest son of Joseph Robert Wright and Julia Sophia Nice, at Carngham in 1904. The Australian electoral rolls show that Frances Jane and George Robert, who was working as a signalman, lived in the Melbourne suburb of East Malvern initially at 7 Chanak Street and then 3 Rushmead Street where George died in 1944. Frances continued to live at 3 Rushmead Street at least until 1954 and probably until her own death in 1966. She and George had two children:

1) Eva Lillian Wright (1906-80). Born at Castlemaine Eva married George Malcom Iverson Carr (1900-56), the son of Henry Alexander Carr and Mary Georgina Pratt, St John's Church in East Malvern on 26 September 1942. The electoral rolls show that they lived at 3 Rushmead Street in East Malvern after their marriage. George was said to be an engine driver and Eva a millener. According to the 'Young Family Tree' on, George died at East Malvern in 1956 and Eva at Dandenong outside Melbourne in 1980. They had at least one daughter we are aware of: Anne Marie Carr who married Frederick Albert Leonard Beauchamp and had four children.

2) Robert Gordon Wright (1908-74). Also born at Castlemaine, Robert married Lorna Winifred Lester (1916-71) in Victoria in 1939. The 'Young Family Tree' on has Lorna's parents as Norman James and Ruby Winifred Lester. The 'Descendants of William Robertson' on Ancestry tells us that Ruby's maiden name was Menzies and Robert and Lorna had two children both still living.

3. George Alfred Cheeseman (1880-1964) married Jessie May White (1878-1967), the daughter of Joseph White and Mary Ann Addison, at Snake Valley in 1906. According to the Australian electoral rolls and other sources, George worked as a labourer, carpenter, baker and bookkeeper and he and Jessie lived at Preston Hill in Snake Valley after their marriage before moving, in the early 1920s to Learmonth near Ballarat and then to Euroa. They had three children we are aware of, Muriel Rose Cheeseman (1910-24, and:

1) Stanley James Cheeseman (1907-80) who married Janet May Ferguson probably at Euroa in around 1934. According to the 'McKernan & Crilly Family Tree' on, Janet was the daughter of Thomas Gwynne Ferguson (1879-1944) and Mahala Matilda ('Tillie') Mackrell (1884-1972) who were married in Victoria in 1909 and had five children in addition to Janet. One of their grandsons, Trevor Cheeseman, tells us that Janet and Stan had three children: Pamela May Cheeseman who married Robert Breen and has three children, Jeffrey James Cheeseman who married Iris Alice Field and also has three children and Ian Frederick Cheeseman who married Wendy Cheryl Lakin;

2) Ivy May Cheeseman (1908-84) who married Alan Edgar Bell (1913-83), the son of James Anthony Bell and Nellie Madge Plumridge (who were married in Victoria in 1912). Trevor Cheeseman tells us that Ivy 'ran a shoe shop in Euroa for many years. She married Alan Bell and they were childless, both dying in Euroa about the early 1980s'.

4. Charles Cheeseman (1883-1949). As reported in the Ripon Shire Advocate on 23 April 1889, as a boy Charles nearly lost his hand in a firearms incident:

Another instance of the danger of carelessly handling firearms was shown in the accident that befell Chas Cheeseman last week. The lad, who lives at Snake Valley, was knocking the muzzle of a loaded pistol against his hand when it exploded and the shot travelling across his hand made a very nasty wound. Dr Hoys said at first thought, the hand would have to be amputated, but now expects to be able to save it if it continues to heal up properly.

Charles survived the accident and married Emily (Emma) Beatrice Gardiner (1885-1950), daughter of John Morris Gardiner and Grace Adelaide Mark, at Carngham in 1902. The Australian electoral rolls show that they lived all their married life at Snake Valley where Charles owned a house and worked as a labourer and miner. They also had eight children there: 1) Grace Adelaide Cheeseman (1902-04); 2) Annie Irene Cheeseman (1906-60) who married Gilbert Ringin (1907-74), son of local farmers John and Caroline Ringin nee Corbett, and had at least twelve children: Dulcie Maud, Thelma Joyce, Edna Beatrice, Shirley Isobel, Gladys Caroline, Alan Charles, Emma Dawn, Gilbert Maxwell, Keith Thomas, Beverley Ann, Valerie Margaret and Carol Jean Ringin; 3) Emma Beatrice Cheeseman (born at Skipton in 1908) who married David Slater, the son of John Henry Slater and Isabella Lavinia Wilkie. 4) Edith Joyce Cheeseman (1912) who married William James Mark; 5) Charles Thomas Cheeseman (1914-75); 6) William Cheeseman (1919) who married Una Elizabeth Quilliam); 7) Alfred John Cheeseman (1922-69) who married Daphne Josephine Daniels (1927-74) who, according to the 'Daniels Family Tree' on was born at Skipton and was the daughter of Norman Daniels and Ellen Frances McGregor; and 8) Donald Philip Cheeseman who, according to the Australian electoral rolls and other sources, worked as an engineer and later a pioneer farmer at Kurangi near Port Douglas in northern Queensland.

5. Born at Carngham, Margaret Shaw Cheeseman (1885-1968) married Thomas Formby (1876-1950) there in 1905. We believe that Thomas was born at Scarsdale in Victoria and his parents were John Formby (1831-1902) and Sarah Elizabeth Swendell (1843-1909) who were wed in Melbourne in 1867. The Australian electoral rolls show that Thomas, who was then working as a storeman, and Margaret lived at Smythsdale in Victoria (the home town of Thomas' mother Sarah Elizabeth) until around 1930 when they moved to the Melbourne suburb of Auburn. Thomas died in Melbourne in 1960, Margaret there in 1968. They had two children we are aware of: 1) Elsie Maud Formby (1906-83) who, according to the 'Town Family Tree' on, married Samuel Vincent Town (1905-72), the son of Samuel Town (1880-1957) and Annie Louisa McCulloch (1879-1917) and had three children all still living; and 2) John Raymond Formby (1908-72) who worked as a decorator and, the 'Duggan Family Tree' on tells us, married Maria May and had at least three cildren: Gwen Marlene Formby who died in 1934, Raymond James Formby who died in 1932 and Noel Raymond Formby (1938-41).

ellen eliza and thomas suttie6. Ellen Eliza Cheeseman (1887-1968) married Thomas Doig Suttie (1883-1963), at the Scots Manse in Ballarat on 16 April 1913 (Ellen and Thomas are pictured in the photo on the right which was sent to us by their granddaughter-in-law Bev Howlett). Thomas was the eldest son of the sometime proprietor of the United States Hotel at Preston Hill near Carngham, Robert Suttie (1852-1923) and Elizabeth Swinton (1863-1936). A copy of their wedding certificate, also supplied by Bev Howlett, shows that Thomas was born at Carngham but was living at Wentworth in NSW at the time of the wedding and working as a labourer. Ellen, a 25 year-old spinster, was living with her parents at Carngham. The marriage was witnessed by Ellen's younger brother James Robert Cheeseman. The Australian electoral rolls show Thomas, a labourer, and Ellen were living at Snake Valley in 1931, Newtown near Smythesdale in 1936, and Scarsdale from at least 1943 to 1954. Thomas died at Ballarat in 1963 and Ellen there in 1968. Bev Howlett tells us they had seven children:

john ernest suttie 19431) John Ernest Suttie (1908-53) who was said to be adopted. In a subsequent contact, John's great-granddaughter, Natalie Barrington, tells us she 'has reason to believe [John] was born to Ellen (prior to her marriage to Mr Suttie) as Ernest Cheeseman, and used the name John Ernest Suttie after the marriage of his mother to Mr Suttie when [John] was 5 years old'. In 1927 John married Annie Sophia Hibbert (1908-89) in the Melbourne suburb of Sorrento. A local, Annie was the eldest daughter of Portarlington-born Frank Ernest Hibbert (1881-1963) and a Melbourne-ite, Dorothea May Johnson (1886-1954), whose grandparents hailed from Lancashire in England. The Australian electoral rolls show that John and Annie lived at Sorrento until their divorce in 1938 (the same year that Annie married Leslie Skinner). The Department of Veterans Affairs' WW2 nominal roll informs us that John (pictured on the left) enlisted in the Australian Army at Puckapunyal in central Victoria on 9 November 1943. He was then living at Scarsdale and gave as his NOK Elizabeth Suttie (presumably his mother). He was discharged on 28 March 1945 at which time he was a Sergeant in the 16th Australian Weapons Training Group. He married Vera Irene Reid the same year and lived and worked in Melbourne until his death at Rosanna in 1953. Natalie Barrington tells us John and Annie had four children: Betty Dorothea, John ('Jack'), Frank and James Suttie. The three boys all married and, between them, had five children we know of. Their sister, Betty Dorothea, who was born at Sorrento in 1927, was thrice married, first to Jack William Boyd (1923-53), who served in the Royal Australian Artillery from 1943 to 1946 and died in the Repatriation General Hospital at Heidelberg in 1953, second to Arnold George Rowe and third to Ronald William Green (1921-2012) who died at Barham in New South Wales. Betty had five children in all, four, including John Boyd (1948-2011) with Jack and one with Arnold Rowe.

2) Thomas David (1921-76) who is buried at Linton with his wife Joan.

3) Robert Thomas ('Bob') who is buried in Darwin. The Department of Veterans Affairs' WW2 nominal roll shows that VX41066 Private Robert Thomas Suttie, born at Wentworth NSW on 4 January 1940, enlisted in the Australian Army at Caulfield in Melbourne on 25 June 1940. He was then living at Scarsdale and gave as his NOK his mother Ellen. He was discharged on 5 May 1944 while serving with the reinforcements for the 2/6 Infantry Battalion. We believe that two years before his discharge, he married Ellen Mary Campbell. The Australian electoral rolls show Bob and Ellen living at Newtown near Smythsdale in Victoria in 1954 (where Bob was working as a miner) and, from around 1958 at Sale in Gippsland region (where he worked as a labourer). Ellen died at on 9 February 1970 and is buried in the local Cemetery. Bob continued to live at Sale before moving to Darwin the the Northern Territory. The Ryerson index shows that a Robert Campbell ('Bob') Suttie, aged 80 years, died in the Northern Territory in October 2009. We have yet to confirm whether this was our Bob or whether he and Ellen had any children.

4) Thelma Ann (1917-97) who is buried with her husband Sydney Howlett (killed in a motor cycle accident in 1955) at Linton.

5) Phyllis who lives at Portland.

6) Jean who is buried at Elaine with her husband; and

7) Langford George Suttie who is buried at Ballarat.

7. James Robert Cheeseman (1890-1977), who was then living at Preston Hill in Snake Valley and working as a labour, married Gertrude May Gardiner (1894-1970) in 1914. Ancestry's index of Australian bdms shows that Gertrude was born at Majorca in Victoria, the daughter of Edward Gardner and Sarah Ann Burdett, and died at Ballarat, aged 76 years (she is buried at Carngham with her husband). Two of Gertrude's brothers - Albert and Herbert Gardner - died on active service in France during the First World War. The Australian electoral rolls show that James and Gertrude lived all their married lives in the Carngham/Snake Valley area where they had six children we are aware of: Clarice Hazel, Phyllis May, Gladys Helen (1919-22), Allan Graham (1935-73), Edward Thomas and Lorna Beryl Cheeseman.

mining at snake valley

Mining at Snake Valley