An Incident at St David's Cathedral in 1862

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely Contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, —
In 1990, a friend of mine found some documents during the demolition of an old building associated with St David's Cathedral, Hobart, Tasmania. He showed the documents to me, and invited me to take them away and examine them.

They consisted of seven hand-written notes, no two the same size and no two written in the same hand. Quite a lot of the handwriting was difficult to read but after a couple of weeks I had managed to decipher it all. I showed the results to my friend and, as he was satisfied that it was done accurately, returned the original notes to him.

The notes proved to be the original documents of a churchwardens' inquiry into an incident at St David's in 1862. Exactly how and where they fitted into place required further research. As I delved into this matter, I felt that the original documents ought to be given to the Tasmanian state archives and intended asking my friend to submit them. Unfortunately, he died before I could put the suggestion and whether the originals still exist I cannot say. This is only a tiny incident but is part of the history of St David's and therefore worth preserving.

Events of 1862

The World
The American Civil War – On June 25th, a series of battles took place. "It wasn't war; it was murder." The Confederate army had more than 5,000 casualties against 3,200 by the Union army. One year later, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought and was the turning point of the war. The Confederates suffered 28,000 casualties, the Union 23,000 – the biggest battle in North American history.

In Europe
Prince Albert, had died on 14th December, 1861. Bismarck came to power as P.M. of Prussia and later became the first chancellor of the German Empire.

On the high seas
The last of the convict ships to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) sailed in 1862 with the stragglers arriving early the following year.

In Australia
The previous November, the first Melbourne Cup had been run. It had been won by Archer and he was to win again this year.

In Tasmania
Port Arthur prison was still in use, and was to be so for another 15 years.

In Hobart
The Benevolent Society of Hobart had been founded in 1859 by Archdeacon Davies of St David's Cathedral. The objects of the society were "to relieve the poor, the distressed and afflicted and thereby to discountenance, as much as possible, mendacity and vagrancy, and to encourage industry among the indigent, irrespective of religious creed or denomination." As a further endeavour to forestall possible future problems from these unfortunates, a Ragged School for children of the poor and needy had been opened in Watchorn St, a street described in the Benevolent Society annual report as "a low neighbourhood." The Ragged School had 66 boys and 69 girls and its superintendent was the missionary, the indefatigable, Reverend R Gray.

At St David's Cathedral
Archdeacon Davies was remitting the charges for pauper funerals.

"The Mercury"
On 26th June, the people of Hobart read "The Mercury" and, in particular, a Letter to the Editor that any concerned citizen of any age, past, present or future, might have written.

Lex Scripta Manet's first Letter to the Editor

Benjamin Browne's Letter to the Editor is response to Lex Scripta Manet

Lex Scripta Manet's reply to Browne's Letter to the Editor

Here is part of a "Mercury" news item a month later (29th July, 1862).

Article by the Editor

Here now follow the documents of the 1862 churchwardens' investigation.
These are five of the seven documents found in 1990. The two remaining 1990 documents, Benjamin Brown's letter and Mrs Clark's statement, then follow.

Thu 3rd July ?
Mr Wilson, Tailor, 27 Macquarie Street. About a fortnight ago he went to Archdn. Davies & obtained an order for the burial of Wm. Naybor of Cresswell's Row. He was directed to go to Brown the Sexton who said, There is my fee & there will be a little wanted for the grave digger, a few shillings. Wilson asked what it would be. Brown replied, "2/6 for himself and 3/- or 3/6 to give the Grave digger." Wilson remarked "that the deceased man had died very poor and asked to know if 5/- wouldn't do." Brown reluctantly consented. Wilson paid the 5/- in the burial ground in the presence of                   a kinsman residing in Macquarie Street, remarking "here is half a Crown for you and half a Crown for the grave digger." Wilson then went to the grave digger & saw Brown put something into his hand."

Mrs. Henson. Tues 15 July
Says that on the death of her little boy on the 22nd June Mr. Gray the Missionary went to the Archdeacon and arranged that the Charges for the funeral were to be remitted.
That on the following Wednesday the Child was buried in St. Davids burial ground, that Brown the Sexton demanded 5/- alleging that it was for the digging of the grave and that Henson, the father, paid the 5/- as demanded.
Mr. Gray was informed of the fact when he next called at the house of Mrs. Henson. Brown also called at the house and Mrs. Henson complained to him of the Charge of 5/- having been made. Brown made no reply but made a remark that Henson did not want the body to be taken into the Church. Mrs. Henson said that her husband did want the body to be taken into the Church and for that purpose had the Cab driven to the Church.
Brown said that it was a free funeral & that the body was to go direct to the ground. Henson was spoken to on the subject at the Church door by a gentleman connected with one of the newspapers. Henson is expected in town next Friday.

22 July
Thomas Henson says he returned from the Huon on the 20th May having been absent from Town more than a fortnight. On the Monday after the death of his child he went to the Church and saw Browne. Browne then said you must bring in a certificate of the death and you must give me half a Crown and also a half Crown for the Grave digger. He also said you must bring the child to the Church at exactly three oClock. Henson attended at 3 oClock as told so to do and took the body out of the Cab, at the Gate Browne came and said "Take the body to the ground & do not bring it in."A stout gentleman was standing by and said to me, "My good man, you are a poor man, take the child into the Church, and I will see into it for you." Browne overheard the observation and then said to me "You can take the body into the Church and there wait until the other funeral is done." I felt annoyed & not wishing any disturbance I went to the ground and waited half an hour until the other corpse came. After the service had been read Browne came to me and asked me my name and also the name of the child. I told him. He then held out his hand and asked me for the fee. I said "I do not know what Hobarton charges were." Here are the two half crowns that you told me to bring you." Brown took the money. I wished him good day, thanked him & left the burial ground.

Stewart Graham. Saith, I am Sexton of St. Davids burial ground. I remember the burial of Wm. Naybor. I knew that the Archdeacon had remitted the fees. My wife told me so. After the funeral was over Brown put a half Crown into my hand in the presence of Mr. Wilson saying at the same time "Here is what Mr. Wilson has given to me for you." I took the money. I believed the gift to be perfectly voluntary on Mr Wilson's part. Graham Stewart

I Stewart Graham also saith that I remember the burial of Thomas Henson's child. I was standing at the Gate when the child was brought to the burial ground. Henson waited for nearly half an hour before the other body was brought. After the service was over I heard Brown talking to Henson. I observed no money paid to Browne. I was busy at the time. Browne did not give me any money on that occasion or subsequently for digging the grave for Henson's child. Since I have been Sexton I have not received more than half a Crown from Browne for digging a grave and that was in Wm. Naybor's case. Some people have voluntarily given me money for digging and filling in graves, perhaps about six times, and not more than seven shillings altogether.
I was aware that Browne demanded monies on my account in the case of pauper funerals. The undertakers told me so, and I have two or three times mentioned the subject to Browne who used to remark "that he might as well make a few shillings as not, his salary was not so very much."
Stewart Graham
28th July 1862

A meeting of the Church-wardens of St. David's Cathedral was held at the Vestry on Wednesday Monday the 28th. July 1862 at 3 o'C P.M. to receive evidence on a charge brought against Benjamin Brown, the Sexton, for refusing to admit the Body of a Child into the Church, and further for illegally demanding and receiving certain fees for Pauper Burials. Present Churchwardens. T.Giblin, N.Gresley, H.Cook. H.Cook in the chair –

After a careful examination into the evidence taken & a patient hearing afforded to the accused the Churchwardens decided as follows viz -
that Benjamin Brown shall immediately express contrition to Messrs. Henson & Wilson for his conduct, and refund to them & all other Persons from whom he had illegally & improperly exacted fees, the several sums so obtained - as a further mark of their extreme displeasure they order a fine of 50/- (fifty shillings) to be paid to the Benevolent Society This order to be complied with to the satisfaction of Mr. Gresley within 7 (seven) days, in default, dismissal from office to ensue. Brown to be severely reprimanded & cautioned as to his future conduct.

Reprimanded accordingly
Henry Cook.
The moment the churchwarden's meeting ended, the editor of "The Mercury" must have been informed of its proceedings because a detailed account was published in the newspaper the very next day, Tuesday, 29th July, 1962.

The first part of this report was shown above, prior to the presentation of the investigation documents. Here it is again along with the remainder of the report.

Article by the Editor

There would be those who would wish to have nothing to do with Brown – who would not want him coming anywhere near them – The Hensons would justifiably consider him beneath contempt. Mrs Henson who was shortly to give birth (in fact, only a month later, on the 31st August) would certainly not want to see him.

Likely, the first thing Archdeacon Davies sought to read that morning would have been "The Mercury" report. He would have been pleased to see the case resolved satisfactorily, and no doubt approved the act of Christian forgiveness in not sacking Benjamin Brown. The Archdeacon would then have put down "The Mercury" and looked to his other correspondence. He would have picked up a letter and be surprised to find it had been written by none other than Benjamin Hall Brown and that it was addressed to both himself and to the Churchwardens. Obviously, Brown must have gone straight home after being found guilty of his unconscionable acts and written this letter (it is dated the 28th). Was this to be his first act of contrition, an admission to the church authorities of his wrong­doings and a seeking of forgiveness on the path to redemption? Let's see what he had to say for himself:

To The Venerable The Archdeacon Davies
The Churchwardens of St. David
In the two cases of Naybor and Henson I beg most humbly and respectfully to say I made no demands in either case and that in the first (Naybor's) I received 5/- & gave the Grave Digger 2/6 which he admits to have received.
In the case of Henson I received a like amount of 5/- and paid the Grave Digger 2/6 as in the first case and although he denies receiving it I do respectfully assure you Gentlemen upon the honor of a man that I did pay him that amount
In conclusion I beg to express my sorrow that these affairs have occurred and humbly promise to take every precaution in future to prevent a like occurrence taking place and
Ever Respectfully Remain
Your humble Servant
Benjamin Hall Brown
28th. July 1862
What Archdeacon Davies thought after reading that letter, one can have no idea but surely he must have been appalled. Brown has not an atom of contrition and is contemptible in not only lying about his fellow workmate but accusing him of lying. What an utterly despicable creature!

A further irritation for the Archdeacon was that Brown had indirectly made him a messenger-boy to deliver this letter to the churchwardens, who are all busy men. Given the letter's content, they needed to be informed urgently. Maybe they would now wish to sack Brown, but that would have looked bad for the Church following hard upon the announcement in "The Mercury" that Brown had retained his job. They would have to pick a future date.

But then something happened that put Benjamin Brown in an even worse light. A Mrs Clark came to St David's and made a statement. Apparently, she did not want any contact with Brown during the restitution of what he had illegally taken from her. Based on their previous face-to-face meeting, she had good cause:

Mrs. Clark, Collins Street. Lost her husband 4 months ago. Makes a complaint against Brown for abuse, and was afraid, gave him 2/6. Interfered altho not asked.
Brown's behavior was impertinent, officiousness, exhibiting a pompous authority.
This episode had occurred two months before the case that brought about Brown's downfall. Just how many people in total had Brown swindled over the years? On the evidence of Mrs Clark, Brown ought to have been ordered not to go anywhere near her, or any of his victims. Each of his possible victims needed to be approached by a church representative and enquiries made. Now, it would be seen as a good thing that Brown had not been dismissed – he can be kept working and his wages used, or garnisheed, to make restitution. Only after all of his victims had been recompensed ought he be dismissed. Brown would have to comply or he could be given in charge and, maybe, serve a lengthy term of penal servitude in Port Arthur.

Nothing further of this sorry saga occurred until the end of the year. On Saturday, the 27th December, Brown and Graham received their usual pay for a six-day week, 34/- to Brown, and 26/- to Graham. Sunday was a day off. There were only three working days left to the end of the year and Brown worked those three days and was paid 17/- and then left St David's, never to return! Not a happy new year for Mr Brown but let us have done with him.

But what kind of a New Year was it for the Henson family? The 1st January was the anniversary of John's baptism. His birthday was probably a day or two earlier, so this was a very sad Christmas and New Year for them. In particular, our thoughts would be with the mother, Margaret, for she had had a most difficult time. Two days later, on the 3rd January, though only 29 years old, she suddenly collapsed and died of apoplexy.

Now, our thoughts would be with the father, Thomas. How difficult for him! Two daughters, one the 9-year old, Philadelphia, the other the 4-year old, Elizabeth, and an infant son, James, only 4 months old. Thomas had been working in the Huon and only coming home when he could get time off, maybe once a fortnight. One can have no idea how he now managed but the tragedies in his life were not over. On the 30th May, his son, James, only 9 months old, got sick and died.

Who were the Hensons?

Thomas Henson was a convict. He was born in the middle of England, in Creaton, a tiny village near Kettering in Northamptonshire. He was a Protestant, and could read and write a little. He was a brick­layer's labourer. He broke into a shop and stole two pairs of boots. He was caught, convicted, and received a 10-year sentence and transportation. Sent from London in the convict ship Marion, Thomas, aged 26, arrived in Van Diemen's Land, 16th September, 1845.

He was sent to the government probation station at Long Point, Maria Island, with a period of probation of 18 months. After completing his probation, he was put to work in various places, including Pittwater, Cygnet, Browns River and NW Bay. At some time Tom became a sawyer. When his convict days were behind him, he lived and worked in Peppermint Bay, now called Woodbridge, from where timber was sent by ship to Hobart and elsewhere.

Margaret Henson (nee O'Shea) was also a convict. She was Irish, born in Limerick, and had been a nursemaid. On 11th January, 1851, Margaret, aged 18, was convicted for receiving stolen wearing apparel and given a 7-year sentence. On the 28th December, 1851, she was shipped out of Dublin, in the John William Dare, away from her country, her home, her family and friends, on a 5-month ocean voyage to Van Diemen's Land, arriving on the 22nd May, 1852.

Margaret was put to work in Battery Point and then Sorell. While there, she was charged with "insolence and refusing to wash" (one might assume "wash" ought to read "work" even though "wash" is clearly written on the charge sheet). She incurred a penalty of four month's hard labour in the Cascades Female Factory. On release she was sent to Peppermint Bay on the 9th December and there, presumably, she met Thomas Henson. They made a marriage application on the 14th March, a necessary requirement when convicts wished to marry.

Their first child, Philadelphia, was born at Peppermint Bay, where the Hensons lived. Their second child, John, was also recorded as born at Peppermint Bay. A few years later, 1862, finds them living in Watchorn Street, Hobart, though Thomas continued to work as a sawyer in that broad area south of Hobart known as the Huon.

A fascinating speculation: Kettering in Tasmania, a seaport, is named after Kettering in England, a town that could not be further from the sea. Thomas Henson was born in Creaton, only 17 km from Kettering in England but lived and worked 3 km from Kettering, in Tasmania. Quite a coincidence, unless Thomas had something to do with naming, however indirectly, the Tasmanian Kettering. Surely, one would wish it to be so.

State Archives
Name Address Born Died Age Remarks
Jonathan Clark Collins St   29/4/62 74  
1William Neighbour Cresswell Row   18/6/62 69 * buried 20/6/62
Eliza Way Collins St   22/6/62   3 * buried 25/6/62
John Henson 2Watchorn St 1/1/55 22/6/62   7 * buried 25/6/62
Margaret Henson Watchorn St


3/1/63 30 nee O'Shea
James Henson Watchorn St 31/8/62 30/5/63   0  
Thomas Henson   1819? 9/9/76 57  
Philadelphia Henson    27/1/54     m. William Curtis
d. 2, s. 1
Elizabeth Henson     1/5/58     m. Charles Tims
d. 4, s. 2
Benjamin Hall Brown   1815? 28/12/75 61  

    1 = Charles Wilson (tailor) was friend of William Neighbour (butcher).
    * = Funeral service by the Reverend John Watson, Curate of St. David's.
    2 = Watchorn St – described in the BS report as "a low neighbourhood" – (a sort of St Giles).

from St David's ledger
27/12/62 Brown & Graham [weekly]
   Browne 34/-
   Graham 26/-

3 / 0 / 0
31/12/62 Browne [left St David's] 17/- to date
entry H Browne for collecting


entry Cooper & Graham [weekly] 3 / 0 / 0

The Benevolent Society of Hobart
Was founded in 1859 by the Venerable Archdeacon Davies, who was warmly assisted in his benevolent object by a number of the leading residents of the city. The objects of the society were "to relieve the poor, the distressed and afflicted and thereby to discountenance, as much as possible, mendacity and vagrancy, and to encourage industry among the indigent, irrespective of religious creed or denomination."

Churchwarden Henry Cook had a tailoring shop. He was the first president of the Benevolent Society and was Mayor of Hobart (1860-61) and (13th  May, 1869 to the end of that year).
Churchwarden Thomas Giblin was manager of the Van Diemen's Land Bank and treasurer of the Benevolent Society.
Churchwarden Nigel Gresley was manager of the Union Bank.

LEX SCRIPTA MANET the written law
Stone Buildings corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets
Cab possibly a Broughton's cab (based in Macquarie St.)
Jan 1868 New cathedral foundation stone laid by H.R.H. Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. Henry Cook was appointed his tailor.

Tasmanian Archives Online
Thomas Henson
Convict Details
Family links
Margaret O'Shea
Convict Details