LIVING TREES RESEARCH ©


A SHORT HISTORY OF JOHN JAMES RUSSELL (1831-1907) AND HIS FAMILY
By Glenys J. Rasmussen, Great Great Granddaughter, August 2000©

bobandglenysr8@gmail.com


Page updated 4 March 2010

John James Russell, the third of nine children was supposedly born at Ludgate Hill, Ludgate, London, England in 1831 - the son of Henry Russell and his wife Isabella Ann Grey. This is not likely as the address given for his parents at his baptism is Hackney. He was baptised at St. John Hackney, London, 11 December 1831, where the record reads: "John James son of Henry and Isabella Ann Russell, Back Lane, Hackney, Plumber". Although we have little knowledge of his youth, we do know that his father was a prominent plumber, gasfitter and decorator in the Mayfair and St. George Hanover Square region of London, employing up to four men in his business. He gave John a good education and taught him the trade of painter and plumber, which knowledge John developed using the modern techniques of his day.

John migrated to Australia in 1853, sailing from London on 6 May 1853 aboard the HMS "Hempsyke" He arrived in Melbourne in August of that year. He set himself up in business at his first place of residence at 77 Russell Street, St. Paul's Division, Melbourne. Melbourne was a new city in 1853 and John's skill promised to give him plenty of work and prosperity.

It was in Melbourne that he met Miss Agnes Harrison, although family tradition has placed the families together in London. I have not found that connection in my research, but it is nice to think it may be so. Agnes was born 1836 Westminster, Middlesex, England, the daughter of John Martindale Harrison and Phillis Sanders. She came to Melbourne as an assisted migrant aboard the HMS "Shooting Star", sailing from Liverpool, England 16 Sep 1858 and arriving in Melbourne 11 Dec 1858. She went directly to her brother, William Harrison, on Gardener's Creek Road, South Yarra. The ship's log notes that she was 22 years old and a member of the Church of England. She listed her native English county as Middlesex.

John and Agnes were married in Prahran, Victoria, Australia on 30 June 1860, according to the order of the Church of England. Which particular local church is not mentioned other than a "licensed place of worship". They were married by banns by the officiating minister, J.H. Gregory and had two witnesses - Susan Davies and William Harrison. The excitement of the event (or the nervousness of the parties) shows on the marriage certificate when William Harrison signed his name where John's should have been. However, the ceremony completed, signatures affixed as best as possible, the couple went off to begin their new life together in a country still quite new itself. The city of Melbourne had only been in existence 25 years. John was 27 years old and Agnes just 23 years.

John and Agnes made their home at Gardener's Creek Road, South Yarra for approximately seven years and then moved to a home at 16 Argo Street, South Yarra, City of Prahran. John's painting and plumbing business was indeed, proving successful. He was also involved in the Colonial Defence Forces, being member #151 of the old Volunteer Southern Rifles. In 1874 he was listed as a Sergeant. Just how long he was part of this colonial detachment is unknown, but his services were dispensed with on 30 Nov 1884. Another Russell - J.S. Russell of Carlton, was also on the list of volunteers for the Southern Rifles in 1873 - we believe this was a cousin of John's.

Business had to be good for John for he and Agnes eventually became the parents of eleven children. Their first child was born 28 Mar 1861 in South Yarra and they christened him Henry John on 24 Sep 1861 at Christ Church, South Yarra. Henry was known throughout his life as Harry Russell. He married twice, his first wife was Sophie Catherine Barker whom he married in 1885, there may have been two children and after her death, he married Lillian in 1887. Harry's date of death is unknown.

The second child to grace the lives of John and Agnes, also a boy, they named James Harrison Russell, born 15 Feb 1863 and christened 27 Sep 1863. When he was just 3-1/2 years old, little James died 19 January 1867. In the verbage of the day, "he was cut off just a bud, not quite ready to flower." We can be certain his parents felt the separation keenly. No further mention of him is made in family records.

William Tyler Russell, third son and child of John and Agnes was born 22 April 1865 and christened 29 April 1866 at Christ Church. He was married in 1899 to Thurza (Thirza) Amelia Rowe and they had five children: Amelia Agnes Elizabeth, bn 1901; Francis John (Frank) bn 1903; William John bn 1906; Gordon Dudley bn 1908; and Wilson bn 1910. Wilson was only 12 years old when his father, William Tyler Russell died 24 July 1922 at the still young age of 57.

The fourth child, another son, was christened Charles Russell. Charles was my great grandfather and was born 19 May 1867 at John and Agnes' home in South Yarra. He took upon himself an apprenticeship of plumber under the guidance and wisdom of John and became a successful businessman himself, owning his own store and business. He followed not only the trade of his father, but also inherited the benevolence and kind-heartedness he witnessed in his home. (See the Biography of Charles Russell on this website.) He married Rosa Florence Alloway on the 5th of December 1891 and they also gave John and Agnes five grandchildren to enjoy. The last child of Charles and Rosa, Ivy Ada, would be born just 6 months before John's death on 18 Mar 1907. She married John (Jack) Thomas Plant 2 Oct 1927 and she died 19 Sep 1973.

It was time, Agnes decided, for some daughters to grace the family home and she was right! Isabella Ann (known always as Belle), was born in 1869. Although no record can be found of her birth, there is in my possession, a scrapbook given to Isabella by her father for her 12th birthday (so written inside) and is dated 1881. Her death certificate also in my possession, gives her age at death as 60 years. She died the 18th of July 1929. Belle was a religious girl and interested in family records (thank goodness!). Her personal bible, which I also have, contains the newspaper clippings of the death notices of her parents and one brother. She herself died just seven years after that brother. She married John Charles (Charlie) Sweatman (pictured to the right) when she was 33 years old, on Wednesday, the 27th of April 1904. They were married by the Rev. Robert Thomson, M.A. at Flemington, Victoria and it was he who presented Belle with her cherished bible. She and Charles had no children.

Daughters were hard to come by for Agnes and once again she presented John with a son, George, bn 5 May 1871 at their South Yarra home. George married Florence Angelina Taylor 20 Feb 1902 at Ascot Vale, a suburb of Melbourne and the home of the family at that time. They were the parents of six children, all born in Melbourne area. He died 30 Nov 1948.

Next came Albert Edward Russell who was born at home in Prahran 8 Aug 1873. The hearts of John, Agnes and their children were to be wrenched once again when just 18 months later, their precious Albert (Abb) would leave, a victim to illness medical attention could not arrest. He died 13 Feb 1875.

It had to come as quite a shock to Agnes, now in her 39th year to discover that not one, but two little boys were arriving on the scene! Arthur and his unnamed brother were born 22 May 1875. Sadly, the littlest of the two did not live long enough even to be given a name. He breathed his first and last breaths on that same day, 22 May 1875. The family coddled Arthur, he bridged the gap left by little Albert, who so recently had passed away. And he was a chubby, cherubic little fellow, happy and cheeky. A little angel without guile. It is a sorrowful fact too, that angels and their purity often do not survive this earth and must return from whence they came. Could John and Agnes' hearts bear up under one more loss? Arthur valiantly tried to live, he gave all the strength his little body had, but it was to no avail, and Heavenly Father requested he return to him on 8 Feb 1877, just a few months short of his second birthday. Comfort and peace seeped into the hearts of his parents and siblings, until it filled them full, then poured over, giving them hope. Their religious convictions carried them through, it did not take away the pain or the grief at the loss of yet another precious child, but each knew, somehow, these little ones were not forever gone, but simply passing through to a better place - a place where one day they would see them again.

A daughter! Agnes had had a daughter, and she was beautiful, blue eyes, golden hair and healthy, oh so gratefully healthy! She was promptly named Agnes after her mother and her birthday was 15 Oct 1878. She was a wonderful child, and she stayed healthy. Nothing seemed to slow her down! John and Agnes were thrilled and much love and attention was lavished upon this adorable and adoring child by all the family members. Her brother Charles, a young man of 12 years of age, was most attentive and he took it upon himself to be her protector, counselor and companion - they remained so for the rest of their lives. Agnes grew to womanhood and gave her family much joy and love. She was a gentle soul, filled with sunshine and a great capacity to nurture and understand. I remember well, spending wonderful moments of my life with her and her just as gentle husband. My auntie Aggie was a special friend to me and gave me words of comfort and advice and love just when I needed it the most. She and Uncle Will (whom she had married 25 March 1908 in South Yarra) had the most remarkable home in Surrey Hills, another suburb of Melbourne. It was like entering another world, one filled with wonder. It was huge and had a garage underneath it which housed my uncle's pride and joy, his large black, shiny sedan. It was washed and polished until it looked like shining ebony each Saturday and then taken out each Sunday for a short drive. Upon their arrival home, it was polished lightly and parked in the garage. In the house, each room had a mosaic fireplace with large iron "dogs" and ornate screens covering them, incredible ornaments were everywhere, from huge vases to the tiniest little tea set brought back from England on one of their many journeys. The rooms were dark - or so it seemed to a young child - covered with the softest cushioned carpet I have ever known. Large, huge draperies hung at the long windows and mirrors were over almost every fireplace. The kitchen, which I almost never went to, was far away at the back of the house and smelled of nutmeg and cloves. My favourite place (well, I had three actually), was at my uncle's enormous rolltop desk, where I was allowed to check out all the little hidden and secret compartments and pull out tiny, tiny drawers which displayed buttons or little pieces of paper. The second favourite place was in my aunt's high, soft bed, under the layers of eiderdowns and soft sheets - we used to have our "talks" there and Uncle Will would oblige us by bringing in "tea" on a tray for us to giggle over. It was wonderful. My third favourite place in that glorious house was in the hallway that ended at the telephone, high on the wall. A great big instrument that you had to hold to your ear while turning the handle to reach the exchange. It was always a thrill when my uncle would lift me up and help me hold the ear piece, turn the handle then talk into the mouthpiece on the box. I felt very important. I also realise now that so much love was expended on me because they had no children of their own. I was the recipient of a very special relationship, one that still comes back to my heart often, reminding me of their kind and gentle devotion - to one another and to those around them. I love to think about them and I am grateful for the memories. My precious auntie Aggie died 11 Dec 1956, just before Christmas, leaving an 8-1/2 year old niece berefit of her wonderful company. Uncle Will died just two years later in 1958. I'm grateful for my religious convictions too, that tell me I will see her and my uncle Will again, and we will giggle over teatrays once more and bask in each others glow of just being together.

Four generations, L-R Agnes Russell Arkley, Isabel Thornborough Russell Fasham, Joyce Muriel Fasham Trimmer and Glenys Trimmer Rasmussen (me!)

Well, Agnes needed a sister didn't she? At least that was mother Agnes' thoughts and her cup was full when petite and delightful Alice Maria arrived. It took a few years to get her here, but when she joined the family on 1 Feb 1882, no-one could have been happier than Agnes, and Agnes! Here was someone little Agnes could cuddle and love just as she had been cuddled and loved. Charles extended his great heart ever further until it took in his littlest sister too. And remember big sister Isabella? Well she was determined not to be left out and as the girls grew there developed between them a bond of companionship and friendship and love difficult to find. For the rest of their lives, the three girls were inseparable, even when distance made physical attendance impossible - their hearts were entwined with a special kind of caring, and nothing, except death, came between them, and even death had no sting because they knew their love knew no boundaries. Alice Maria married Samuel Pynor in 1903. She was his third wife. Marriage had come later in life for Alice and so no children came to she and Samuel. But she was typical of the Russell clan and she extended her love to all and sundry, again giving and giving, expecting nothing in return. She and Sam had a wonderful marriage and were very happy together. Lots of Sundays found them with Agnes and Will and Belle and Charlie. They loved to ride bicycles and all of them would hop on some of the strangest contraptions and call it fun! Sometimes they would all go for a pony and trap ride - Will had a fine turnout and he would bring it to the park and they would take turns spinning around the park, laughing and enjoying each other immensely. Later on he traded the pony for a motorbike and sidecar.

Belle was the first of the sisters to pass away, when she died quietly at the still relatively young age of 60 years. Her date of death was 18 July 1929. It caused deep grief and sorrow in the family, but none suffered more than her two sisters. When Agnes received Belle's bible from a grieving husband, she noted that Belle had marked her favourite scriptures and as she and Alice read it, a gentle peace filled their hearts and they knew that Belle was still mindful of them. Alice went next in 1938 or 1940, still in the prime of life, she had been ill for some time and her delicate constitution simply could not fight off the sickness. The healthy, bubbly, cherubic Alice of a long time ago, had grown into a beautiful, delicate and caring woman who reached out to those around her with tenderness. Agnes felt the strength of her brother Charles and she leaned upon him and her Will in her aloneness. Charles himself would be gone only a few years later, and Aggie would continue on through the death of brother George until she herself would be called home.

The three sisters, L-R: Belle, Alice (middle standing) and Agnes

If we can backtrack just a litte here, John and Agnes moved from their home on Argo Street after the birth of Alice and bought a new home at 206 Union Road in Ascot Vale, where John remained for the rest of his life. He ran a small plumbing and painting business which although never made them rich in financial ways, made them rich in service and goodness to others. John also went to work for the Government at the Ordnance Dept. The factory he worked at was not far from the Maribynong River and when he completed his time with them was awarded a pension for his long service. The Ordnance Dept. records show that his first date of employment with them was 20 May 1870 and besides working at his skilled labor of painter, plumber and gasfitter, "he received and has charge of and issues all small arms, repairs all rifles". For this work he was paid the grand sum of One Hundred and Eighty-Two Pounds, Ten Shillings per Year. John taught his son Charles his trade and his work ethic. We can see the father in the son as we learn of the tremendous good Charles did for others plumbing homes in the Lalor area for a fraction of the cost and often not charging anything at all and taking payment in kind instead. Times were hard for everyone and John had shown his son by example, that better things than money can come to you if you share the gift of compassion along with hard work. John James was a kind and loving father, a devoted husband and an honest man, whose word and handshake carried more weight than any legal document could hope to. He had a dry sense of humor, often mistaken for terseness, but when one took the time to get to know John James, one knew they had someone they could count on no matter what.

We find John listed in the Sands & McDougal Directory of Melbourne in 1900 as follows: J.J. Russell 206 Union Road Ascot Vale - Sole occupant. We feel sure this means sole male voter in the household, because of course, Agnes and the children still at home were living with him.

John James Russell died in the Gipps Ward of the Melbourne Hospital on 6 September 1907 at the age of 76 years. He was a colonist of 54 years, the father of 7 living children and 4 deceased. If only we could know just how that short commentary on life impacted him and his family! He left a heritage of honesty, thriftiness and love. His life spanned two continents and even now, these many years later, his influence is still felt by those of his posterity. His family buried him in the St. Kilda Cemetery on the 9th of September 1907. After his death, Agnes went to live out her last years with daughter and son-in-law Aggie and Will and six years later they would lay her to rest beside him - 27 September 1913.

John James Russell and Agnes Harrison were the parents of 11 children, they knew the anguish of losing a child - four times they were required to pass through such a time. Yet time heals all wounds and to help in the process grandchildren came into their lives - at least 22 of them. Today, (2003), their posterity has increased 100 fold and we hold in our hearts our gratitude for decent, good, strong and loving ancestors who made our paths easier to tread.

The Heritage of John James and Agnes Harrison Russell - The Russell clan at a Christmas celebration in Barham, NSW, 1935: Back Row L-R: Horace Easter Fasham, Isabel Thornborough Russell Fasham, John (Jack) Plant, Ivy Ada Russell Plant, Rosa Elizabeth Russell Fasham, Harold Ernest Fasham, Charles (Charlie)Harold Fasham, William Arkley; Next row, L-R: Joyce Muriel Fasham, Rosa Florence Alloway Russell, Alexander Charles Plant (on Rosa's lap), Ronald Russell John Plant, Charles Russell, Constance Joan Plant, behind her is Ernest (Ernie) George Fasham, Agnes Russell Arkley. Picture taken at Charles and Rosa's place.

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