henry hickmott in victoria

(last updated 5 December 2017)

Life and times at Clunes

Clunes was named by the Scot Donald Campbell when he squatted there in 1839. The discovery of gold in the late 1840s led to an influx of people into the area and, in the same year Henry and Harriet left South Australia, the opening of a major underground mine (pictured below) which was jointly owned by the Port Phillip and the Quartz Gold Mining Companies. This saw the expansion of the earlier cluster of huts and tents into a sizable town at which there were considerable working opportunities not only for miners but a range of skilled artisans and craftsmen like Henry. By 1861 the population of Clunes had grown to 1080 and the town contained over 470 dwellings. It had its own council, a number of schools and churches and, in the fashion of the times, a range of lodges and societies including the Freemasons, Oddfellows, Rechabites, Good Templars and Hiberians.

clunes mineWhile at Clunes, Henry continued to style himself as a 'London brickmaker', advertising his wares in the 11 November 1859 edition of the Creswick and Clunes Advertiser as follows: 'Bricks for sale in any quantities. Superior sandstone bricks, three pounds per thousand. Contracts taken on most reasonable terms and executed at the shortist notice'. Although his obituary indicates that he, and possibly the family as well, may have spent some time during this period at both the Ballarat and Bendigo diggings, it seems that in the early days the family lived on the edge of town near the bridge on the Back Creek road.

While there Harriet was called before an inquest, held on 24 September 1861, into the death of a 12-month old boy, Samuel Snell. The one year-old Samuel had accidentally drowned in a hole that had been dug at the rear of his parent's house. Living next door to the Snells, Harriet had heard the mother scream and had come to her assistance, placing the child into warm water and sending for the doctor but to no avail. Twelve months later, Henry was taken to court by Snell senior for illegally detaining five geese. In the court hearing, held on 24 October 1862, it transpired that the geese had been sold to Henry by Snell's wife without the complainant's knowledge and shortly before she separated from Snell (possibly over the circumstances leading to young Samuel Snell's death). The case was dismissed and Snell was ordered to pay ten shillings in costs.

The proceedings of the Clunes Police Court showed that Henry's brickmaking business, and his fortunes generally, waxed and waned over the ensuing years. Faced with mounting debts he was declared insolvent on 16 May 1862 and forced to start again. In 1863 he was brought before the court on three separate occasions for failing to pay for a range of goods and services. In spite of these problems he was able, on 8 June 1864, to pay 14 17s for another block of land at Clunes. On 18 November 1864 he successfully sued a John Edmonson for twelve shillings and sixpence for 'damage done by pigs trespassing' but was ordered, in August the following year, to pay nearly four times this amount to a James Greenhill for 'firewood sold and delivered'.

In January 1866 the Ballarat Star reported that Henry had written to the Clunes Council 'asking to be allowed to use the island as a brickyard'. Elsewhere the paper noted that Henry had won prizes for building and firebricks exhibited at the Glendarvel, Beckwith and Clunes Agricultural Society's Autumn Show (some ten months on, Henry had to write to the Society asking to be paid his prize money). In September 1869, under the byline 'Clunes Bricks', the same newspaper informed its readers that:

Mr Hickmott is just commencing to make bricks at North Clunes, from the clay about the Alluvial Company's shaft. Mr Cooper, iron founder, is now erecting for him a powerful roller mill for crushing the material. The rollers are of cast iron, 3ft long by 15 in in diameter, and a driver by horseworks similar to those of a chaff cutter. It is to be hoped Mr Hickmott will succeed in making good bricks and plenty of them, as there is no doubt that they would meet with real sale in any quantity.

Barely three months later Cooper took Henry to the Clunes Court to recover money he was owed for the pug mill. This failure of his brick making venture was probably instrumental in Henry's subsequent decision to move away from Clunes. The Rate Books for the nearby town of Maryborough show that on 21 November 1871, Henry paid eleven shillings and threepence in rent for a wooden house on Dundas Road (the house was owned by a D. Taylor). There was no mention of him in subsequent (or previous) records which suggests he and his family stayed briefly in Maryborough prior to taking up land in Charlton (see below).

henry and harriet

Sent to us by Graeme Hickmott, this photo shows Henry and Harriet and two of their boys
(probably James and Samuel although this has not been confirmed).

The Victorian Goldfields hospital records of admission show that a Samual [sic] Hickmott, a labourer aged 72 years, was admitted into the Maryborough and District Hospital on 18 January 1872. This suggests that Henry's father, Samuel may have been living with or near the family during this period at least (Samuel came to Victoria from either Tasmania or South Australia around the time Henry travelled to the gold fields). It is not clear, however, whether Samuel went to Charlton with Henry and his family or whether he remained in Maryborough. The hospital records don't provide a discharge date, indicating only that after treatment Samuel 'was released to his friends'.

Not everything went poorly at Clunes. In the time they were there Henry and Harriet had nine further children: Samuel (1857-1877), William (1859-1938), Walter (1862-1862), Elizabeth Jane (1863-1875), Mary Ann (1865-1866), Emily Louisa (1868-1869), Alfred (1869-), Richard (1870-) and Joseph Hickmott (1872-1928).

During this time, Henry also saw his three eldest daughters marry: Eliza to Robert Osborne in 1863, Emma to Richard Mitchell in 1866 and Rebecca to a Cornish farmer, Joseph Colmer Smith, in 1869. After giving birth to two boys in Clunes in 1865 and 1867, Eliza moved to Amherst and then to Eganstown where she died in 1912. Emma and her family remained in Clunes before moving to East Charlton in 1878 where they settled on land at Buckrabanyule. Rebecca and Joseph lived initially on a farm at Waubra (located about 20 miles southwest of Clunes) before moving to Lalbert in around 1878.

Henry's fourth child by Sophia, Henry Edward Hickmott, went with his father to Charlton before returning briefly to Kingower (located between Clunes and Bendigo) in 1877 to marry Elizabeth Ann Owen (the sister of a cricketing friend of his from Charlton).

East Charlton farmer and brick maker


On arrival in East Charlton in 1872, Henry established a brickyards across the road from his house in Olive Street, and bought a farm at Wooroonooke which was then known as Watson's Lakes. Although white people first moved into the Charlton area in around 1844, the numbers there remained quite small until after the Land Enactment Act of 1869 which enabled people like Henry and Harriet to settle on 320-acre blocks and pay them off over a period of twenty years. Other families who moved into the area at this time included that of James Jenkyn who had been a miner at Creswick and Ballarat and who settled on land at Buckrabanyule in April 1874. James' son Thomas would later marry Henry's granddaughter Mary Sophia Mitchell and have five children all in Charlton. A second pioneering family whose descendents would marry those of the Hickmotts was the Dews who lived on an adjoining property at Watson's Lakes.

As Grace Cadzow describes in her book Charlton and the Vale of the Avoca, by 1874 most of the land that had been made available in 1869 had been taken up and the area was thriving. 'Huts and cottages were built, using local timber, paddocks were fenced and the roads were busy with wagons and bullock drays. The newcomers arriving during a period of good years, found abundant pastures and the country seemed a veritable paradise'. There were some 2000 people in the area with 300 living in the township itself. This contained four churches, a flour mill and a general store that described itself as 'the emporium of the north'. Following petitions from the locals, a school, State School No 1480, was opened at Charlton East on 14 January 1875. In an article published in the East Charlton Tribune a few years later, this was described as a 'pretty ordinary edifice' which 'the meanest Chinese hut in the colony surpassed, both in symmetry and comfort'. Nonetheless, within this initial timber and bark construction, which measured a mere 14 feet by 10 feet, some 42 children were taught, including a number of Hickmotts and their relatives.

charlton school in 1875

But the good times did not last and the settlers around Charlton were soon confronted by the droughts, dust storms and rabbit plagues that were a feature of outback life and made it difficult for them to fulfil their licence requirements (the records of the local licence boards showed that, throughout this time, there was an enormous turnover in licence holdings). As the East Charlton Tribune complained on 27 July 1878, returning a profit was made more difficult still by the absence of any rail link to the area. This placed the farmer 'at a great disadvantage [since] when produce has to be carted fifty or sixty miles, it leaves a very small margin for profit after all expenses [such as] the wear and tear of wagons and other vehicles used for the conveyances' are paid for. The main problem that faced the early settlers of Charlton, however, was obtaining a reliable water supply. In the drought years, water had to be carted from surrounding rivers and lakes, and families would have to do their washing at communal washing points such as the 'Sheep Wash Dam'.

The hardships facing Henry and his family were compounded on 14 February 1877 when Harriet and her 19-year old son, Samuel, were struck by lightning on the front step of their home in East Charlton and killed instantly. The St Arnaud Mercury recorded the event as follows:

About 5pm on Wednesday a severe thunderstorm burst over East Charlton, and an hour later Mrs Hickmott and her son Samuel (a youth of 18 or 20) had just returned to their home in that township after a visit to a selection belonging to the family at Watson's Lakes, when a flash of lightning struck them both dead in the doorway of their house, at the same time killing a dog that stood near them. Mrs Hickmott was thrown several yards out of the building, the apparel around her chest and shoulders being set ablaze, and her face much disfigured by the electric current, which appears to have struck her on the head and travelled down her right side. Her son Samuel was smitten on the right shoulder the current passing diagonally across his body until it came to his heart, his clothing being burnt even to the undershirt. Another son, named James, who was indoors at the time, was struck on the left forearm and hip, and for a time was paralysed, but has since recovered. A man who was also in the house at the time was rendered insensible for several minutes, and when he returned to consciousness, found Mrs Hickmott and Samuel dead, and their clothes burning. The Hickmott family resided at Clunes and St Arnaud before they went to East Charlton, and were much respected in each of the places named.

In the following year, Henry's son-in-law, Richard Mitchell, had his hand caught in a stripping machine while helping harvest Henry's crop at Wooroonooke. He was taken to the St Arnaud Hospital where, unfortunately, he had to have the hand amputated. The East Charlton Tribune reported, on 30 November 1878, that, although very weak, Richard was improving slowly and 'no serious symptoms have presented themselves'.

mallee dust stormIt is likely that, on 27 November 1878, Henry attended the farewell for his friend and neighbour, the proprietor of the local sawmill William Nalder. This was held at Yates' Hotel at West Charlton where 'about 40 persons sat down to a sumptuous repast'. Following the speeches, 'the room was cleared for dancing which was kept up until an early hour in the morning'. It is possible that Henry was accompanied by the widow Margaret Ann Kaye, who he married three months later at a Mr Burton's at Wooroonooke. Their wedding certificate shows that Henry was then aged 53 years and had had 15 children (eight living and seven dead). Margaret had two children (both living).

After their marriage, Henry and Margaret lived on Henry's farm at West Charlton. While normally helped by his sons, he also occasionally took on casual labourers to do specific jobs. One such person was a John Cooper who was hired, in the second half of 1879, to grub mallee roots from Henry's land and who subsequently took Henry to court for not paying him his dues (even though he had not finished the work). The case attracted the attention of the editor of the East Charlton Tribune who reported on it with some glee:

The complainant [Cooper], who possessed only a sinister daylight, stated his case in grandiose language. He had engaged with the defendant to do certain grubbing, but claimed to have expressly stipulated that he was not to be required to work after the beginning of the harvest [and so was simply] to do all he could by 1 December. The bench which had occasionally to control the hyperbolic flights of the complainant, who, while he addressed the court, indulged in the lavatorial process of 'washing his hands with invisibles soap, in imperceptible water', decided on the complainant's own showing that they had no jurisdiction and dismissed the case.

It is possible that Henry and Margaret, together with some of Henry's older children, went to see Madame Sibley, the 'renowned phrenologist and mesmerist', who visited East Charlton in January 1879 and greatly entertained her audiences in the Globe assembly rooms. They almost certainly would have joined the crowd of onlookers who applauded 'the antics of the lords of the soil' in a grand corroboree held in the square adjacent to the East Charlton Hotel on 22 March of the same year. Four month's later, Henry and Margaret's only son, Robert Hickmott, was born at West Charlton (Robert would die from typhoid fever at Junee Hospital in 1899).

A brief exile in NSW and Queensland

On 9 October 1880 Henry was called before the Charlton County Court for not having paid a Mr Armstrong for goods worth 13/18/6. According to the local newspaper 'Mr Skinner for plaintif applied for a nonsuit as a material witness could not be produced'. Armstrong won his suit and was granted 6/6/- costs. Henry's non-appearance was probably because he and Margaret had gone to live at Junee in NSW where we suspect Margaret had family or friends. On 21 May 1884 the Junee Bench issued a warrant for Henry's arrest. According to the New South Wales Police Gazette he was charged with unlawfully deserting his wife, Margaret Ann Hickmott, at Junee on 7 March 1883, and leaving her without support. The Gazette notice added that Henry was 'about 55 years of age, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high [sic], dark complexion, dark hair and beard mixed with grey. A brickmaker. May have gone to Daylesford, Victoria, or Roma Queensland'.

Henry's place of exile was Roma where he sought, once again, to establish a brick making business. As the following extracts from the local newspaper make clear, Henry's latest brick-making exploits followed a familiar pattern. Possibly prompted by advice provided by Henry, the Western Star and Roma Advertiser, set the scene on 9 April 1884 when it told its readers:

It is a matter of surprise that in an important town like Roma the brickmaking industry has hitherto failed to secure a footing. It ought to be a very good thing for any man to enter upon provided he has a practical knowledge of the work and sufficient money to carry on until two or three kilns are burnt. The clay to be obtained has been spoken of as excellent in quality and unlimited in extent. In former years attempts were made, principally by settlers who had no practical experience, and who were far too economical with the fuel, the result being that although bricks were made they would not withstand the weather, but crumbled to pieces or would fall away to pieces if rubbed on a wooden floor. Good bricks, such as those now brought from Toowoomba, 217 miles distant, would be in great demand if obtainable at anything like a reasonable figure...we find that Mr Hickmott is about to try what he can do in the way of brick making, and we are sure everyone will wish him success.

On 14 May 1884 the newspaper further reported that 'certain brickmaking operations' have been entered upon by Mr Hickmott 'whose yard is situated on the bank of Bungil Creek between the railway bridge and the slaughter yards ... Mr Hickmott has already made and burnt a small kiln of 10,000 bricks, which are claimed to be good marketable articles that will stand any amount of weather, although from the absence of iron in the clay they are not so hard as the best made in Toowoomba. If Mr Hickmott can bring about an inspection on behalf of the Government and the article he produces warrants a report sufficiently favourable to induce the Public Works Department to use his bricks', the report concluded, then he 'will find a good market here'. On 25 June 1884, the paper declared that it

... is gratifying to find that the efforts made by Mr Hickmott to establish the industry of brick-making in Roma are likely to be successful. Some weeks since samples of the first small kiln burnt were submitted to the railway department, and these have we learn been reported upon by Mr Cross whose report is so favourable that the department has authorised the use of the bricks in the work required for cottages and other similar constructions in connection with the railway. Mr Hickmott has moulded a sufficient number for a larger kiln, and as soon as they are properly dried, they will be burnt. A pug mill has been fixed up, wich acts spendidly, and Mr Hickmott is confident that the next kiln of bricks burnt will, if all goes well, turn out excellent ... the price ruling is reasonable - 3/10/0 per thousand for a quantity. Already orders have been received from some of the neighbouring stations, and a bricklayer, Mr Hunter, comes at an opportune time to enable some of the town residents to replace the wretched makeshifys hitherto used as flues by good, substantial and handsome chimneys.

On 5 July 1884 Henry was awarded a licence for brickmaking and presumably began preparing his next and crucial kiln of bricks. He was also busy with other work including repairing, for the Municipal Council, a 'dangerous portion of the main road leading to Blythesdale', and providing kerbing within parts of Roma. It is perhaps instructive that Henry's tendered price for the road repairs - 5/17/6 - was well below the others that had been submitted and that the quality of some of the kerbing he had earlier provided was being questioned by some of the town's councillors. Things seemed not to be going well and would again end up with Henry leaving town.

The evidence for this can be found in a report in the 4 November 1884 edition of the Western Star and Roma Advertiser. Appearing before a magisterial inquiry into a house fire at Bungil Creek, Paul Beck, a selector residing at Bismarck farm, informed the magistrate he had earlier bought land near the Bungil bridge on the Blythdale Road and built a house on it. 'Four months ago', Beck continued, 'he rented the house and paddock to Mr Hickmott for three years; on Saturday last, about 9am, he went to the house as he was informed Hickmott had cleared out ... [a women in the vicinity told him] she had not seen Hickmott for three days, but had seen his boy two days previously ... Hickmott owed him 20 in rent ... and had left his furniture in the house'. A neighbour of Beck's, Caroline Henry, told the inquiry 'her husband had said he saw [Hickmott] go away in the train on Thursday morning'. Confirmation that Henry's latest attempt to establish a brick making business had failed came on 21 November 1885 when the Supreme Court of Brisbane declared him insolvent.

Back to Victoria

osborne family c1900

From Lisa Wahlsten's 'Osborne/Wahlsten Family Tree' on Ancestry, this photo is of Henry Hickmott not long before his death in 1914.
He is seated next to his daughter Eliza Osborne. The woman standing behind Henry could be another daughter, Emma Mitchell,
with whom Henry lived when he returned to Victoria. The man standing on the left may be Eliza's husband, Robert Osborne.
The two boys at the front are probably Robert and Eliza's two youngest sons: Charles Stanley and
George Alfred Osborne although this has not been confirmed.

It seems that Henry returned to Victoria where, in 1886, he tended for land at Barrakee near Charlton. On 21 December 1889 the Bendigo Advertiser reported that a Hickmott had a tender accepted by the Korong Shire for the supply of 500 cubic yards loam and open crossing on Black Swamp between Barrakee and East Charlton (the tendered price was 36/15/-). The Hickmott in question may have been Henry or it could have been one of his sons. Indeed the following evidence indicates that around this time Henry may have been living and working near Bairnsdale in the Gippsland region of Victoria. Reports of the proceedings of the Bairnsdale Petty Sessions contained in the Bairnsdale Advertiser on 23 July and 11 August 1892, included an H. Hickmott vs G Chard over a claim for 1/15/- for goods sold and delivered. The case was adjourned to 5 August with the following outcome: 'Henry Hickmott vs G Chard ... No appearances for defendant, order for the amount claimed and 12s costs'. In 1893 the Bairnsdale Advertiser reported, on 4 March and 19 December, that an 'H. Hickmott was paid 7 shillings by the Bairnsdale Shire Council for cutting thistles, and applied for a licence for a roadside place at nearby Sandy's Creek. According to the latter report 'Mr Stuart appeared for the applicant. Sub Inspector Mahony opposed. Hickmott said there was a population of about 200 miners working in the district which could be served by his house. Constable T. O'Brien said there was only a bridle path to the place, and that there were two other licensed premises within a radius of eight or nine miles. There was no accommodation needed at that place. Witness was stationed 23 miles from Sandy Creek, and it was a very rough road. The application was refused'.

We do know that around this time Henry contemplated trying his luck in Western Australia. The 2 August 1897 edition of the West Australian featured the following advertisement: 'Notice to brickmakers. Practical man wants situation as foreman of brickyard, 50 years experience, steady man. Henry Hickmott, brickmaker, Post Office Guildford'. For whatever reason he seems not to have gone but instead remained in Victoria. The State's 1899 referendum had Henry as a 'gentleman' who lived at Barrakee. A report in the East Charlton Tribune in 1902 recorded Henry as being at Buckrabanyule where he was said to treat horses against bot fly. The 1909 electoral roll has him as a pensioner and living at Barrakee. In 1913 Henry went with his youngest son, Joseph Hickmott and his family, to live at Pine Grove near Rochester in northern Victoria where he died of 'senility exhaustion' on 16 May 1914 and was buried the next day at the Pine Grove East Cemetery at Pannoo/Bamawm. According to his death certificate, which was informed by Joseph, Henry was an 88 year-old pensioner whose parents were 'not known'. More details of Henry's long and eventful life were contained in two separate obituaries, one published in the Rochester Express and the other in the East Charlton Tribune:

We have been furnished with the following particulars of Mr Henry Hickmott who died last Saturday aged 89 years. He was born in Kent, England in May 1826 and arrived in South Australia in 1848, taking up his residence for three years at Mount Barker where he followed up brick making. From there he came to Clunes, Victoria and visited Ballarat and Bendigo in the gold rush. With his wife and family he went to Charlton where he selected land in 1872. He remained in the Charlton district till 14 months ago when he came to reside at Pine Grove East with his son and daughter until he passed away peacefully on Saturday last. The funeral took place on Sunday May 17 leaving his son's residence at 2pm. A number of friends followed the remains to the last resting place, the Pine Grove Cemetery. The coffin-bearerswere E. M. [undeciferable], M. Dullard, G. Windridge, B. S. Whinfield and A. and O. Chappell (Rochester Express, 22 May 1914.

The death of Mr Henry Hickmott, which took place on May 16th, at the residence of his son, Mr Joseph Hickmott, Pine Grove East, near Rochester, was briefly referred to in our columns at the time, and since then we have obtained some interesting particulars regarding the deceased gentleman's career. He was born in Kent, England and was 89 years of age. On May 5th 1852, he arrived at Mount Barker, Australia, with his wife and three children, where he followed his trade of brick-maker until the Bendigo gold-rush, when he was one of a party that travelled from South Australia. Having done well in Bendigo, Mr Hickmott went back to SA for his wife and family and brought them to Melbourne until the Clunes diggings broke out, when he went to reside there, and continued the brick-making trade for a few years. He then worked at his trade at St Arnaud, after which he selected land in the Charlton district in 1872. He followed up farming and brick-making until the death of his wife and son, Samuel, on the 14th November 1878. They were both struck by lightning and killed instantly during a severe thunderstorm, at their residence at Charlton, at the rear of where Mr E. W. Foreman's mill now stands. Deceased then left Charlton for a number of years, but he came back and resided for a time with his daughter, Mrs R. Mitchell, at Barrakee, and his son Mr Joseph Hickmott at Charlton, with whom he went to Rochester a little over twelve months ago, residing with him up to the time of his death. The late Mrs Robert Osborne and the late Mrs R. Smith were his daughters who pre-deceased him a few months, and the late Mrs R. Mitchell, was another daughter, who died just six weeks after him. Mr Hickmott's funeral was largely attended, the remains being interred in the Pine Grove cemetery. The coffin-bearers were Messrs E. N. Tomachichel, M. Dullard, G. Windridge, O. Chappell and E. B. Sinclair. In the "Weekly Times" some months ago, there appeared an interesting photo, showing a group of five generations of the family (East Charlton Tribune, 5 August 1914).

pannoo bamawm cemetery

Pannoo Bamawm Cemetery Pine Grove Victoria

Last updated: 16 May 2014

Hickmott family Rootsweb site Henry's father Samuel Hickmott
Henry's siblings: Edward and James Hickmott Henry in South Australia
Rebecca Smith nee Hickmott Emma Mitchell nee Hickmott

Image sources:
'Port Phillip Gold Mining Company's Claim and Township of Clunes 1869', engraving by Samuel Calvert (1828-1913), State Library of Victoria IAN19/06/69/129
'Henry and Harriet Hickmott, c1875 courtesy of Graeme Hickmott
East Charlton taken from 'Opening of East Charlton Railway, 1883', woodgraving State Library of Victoria IAN16/05/83/69
Charlton School 1875, Museum Victoria Image MM002730
Wimmera duststorm
Pannoo Bamawm Cemetery, private collection

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