Monday, 25 January 2016

My first Australian

As it is Australia Day, I thought I would write about my first Australian ancestor.  Eliza Rowley was born, according to family lore, on 25 Apr 1804, although no baptism record has been found.  Her monumental inscription (see below) suggests that she was born in 1803.   According to an obituary, she was born at Kingston farm, her family’s home, in what is now Newtown in Sydney.  There is still a Kingston Road and a Rowley street there today.

Eliza’s parents were Captain Thomas Rowley, an officer in the NSW Corps, and Elizabeth Selwyn, a convict.  Although Eliza was illegitimate, her father acknowledged her and her four older siblings, Isabella, Thomas, Mary and John, in his will and they all took his name.  There may have been a sixth unacknowledged posthumous child, Henry Rowley. 

Captain Thomas Rowley died in 1806 from consumption and his estate was left in trust to his five named children, so Eliza would never really have known her father.  The estate was mismanaged, in part because the trustees returned to England while the children were still minors.  A court case in 1832 provided a final pay out to four of his children and their spouses.  Isabella died young and her husband made no claim on the estate. Here is a link to the case:

Eliza Rowley appears in various early musters and census, living with her mother. They seem to have lived in Newtown, although the family also had land in Burwood and Liverpool, where her older brothers lived.  During her childhood, Eliza would have seen Sydney grow from a garrison town into a small city.  Her family played a role in the growth of the young colony, with her brother John being part of expeditions trying to cross the Blue Mountains to the Western Plains.

On 25 Aug 1826, Eliza Rowley married Henry Sparrow Briggs, whose story was the first that I told.  They married at St John’s Parramatta.  Eliza and Henry had ten children, three of whom died in infancy.  Henry’s story covers some of the family’s experiences.

Eliza lived as a widow for 16 years after the death of her husband in 1866, dying 27 September 1882.  She was still living on the family farm in Newtown, where her son, my ancestor Frederick Henderson Briggs, was a dairyman.  According to an obituary, Eliza died sitting under a pear tree in her backyard, at the house where she was born.  Eliza’s death certificate says that she died of Syncope, which means she passed out from some unspecified cause – Wikipedia suggests a number of possibilities.

Eliza was originally buried in the family vault at Kingston, which was later moved to Waverly Cemetery, Sydney.  Her inscription says Eliza, wife of the above [Henry Sparrow Briggs], died 27 Sep 1882 aged 79 years.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Eliza Rowley


  1. Hi Susan, I love your blog - interesting, and well written!
    My wife is your second cousin once removed, being descended from Ester Ilma Lees' brother Colin. Her father knew Daphne Madge Smith and her husband (his aunt and uncle) well. If you would like to chat more about family ties please contact me at astgenealogy [at] gmail [dot] com.

  2. Hi Susan, my wife's 5th great Grandfather was Capt Thomas Rowley, we have visited the grave site at Waverly. Robyn has done extensive research on the Rowley and Lucas branches, but not much on the Briggs yet. Our email address is

  3. Sorry my name is Gregory Hardina, wife is Robyn Hardina