By Glenys J. Rasmussen, Great Great Granddaughter, September 2007©

WILLIAM ADAMS was born in the Parish of Magna Canford (Great Canford), Dorset, England, in the year 1820 to Joseph Adams and his wife, Mary Roberts. They had him christened at the parish church 1 October 1820. Joseph, William's father, was a dairyman, a profession which seemed to be prevalent in the area and among the Adams family. A native of Dorset himself, Joseph was christened at Sturminster Marshall 12 Jan 1783 the son of John and Elizabeth Adams. He married Mary Roberts at Shapwick, Dorset on the 26 Jan 1807 and William's siblings were born in Shapwick, Almer, and Canford Magna. It appears that Joseph and Mary decided to make the village of Knighton, within the parish of Canford Magna their home sometime between 1812 and 1814. They brought with them Ann, John, Mary, Henry and Eliza. Henry never married, while Ann and John did and remained in the area. William had followed his father into the business of dairyman and all indications show that he was an able and good provider.

Magna Canford or Great Canford was a parish of some consequence in 1840. It lay within a day's travel of the port city of Poole and was a centre of agricultural wealth and supply. Although not a large place, it's population was substantial and it found itself a place of importance in 1841 with its principal business of dairy and other agricultural pursuits. Somewhat of a contrast was Morden, Dorset, which lies just a few miles from Great Canford and a shorter distance to Poole. A small, agricultural based village, it was situated in a pretty area of Dorset surrounded by fields, farms and woods.

Not withstanding contrasts of economic or population factors, there was one special attraction Morden had and that attraction became extremely important to William. Her family, well-to-do farmers, were situated on a large farm there.

SARAH HILLIER, the daughter of James Hillier and Ann Brown Fry, his wife, was almost five years William's junior, but undaunted he continued to pursue and court her until on the 9th day of May 1843 in Poole, Dorset, he took her hand in marriage. Just a year earlier, Sir Robert Peel, Premier of England, had proposed and carried a new law, the Income Tax, a tax on the annual profits of commerce or of occupation - at such a rate, he estimated, would not only make up the deficiencies of national expenditures, but would also leave a surplus. The young Queen Victoria was in her sixth year of reign and world events were much on her mind for there was much chaos and warfare.

Our young couple settled down in Canford near William's aging mother and he continued to support her and his new family in the business of dairyman. The couple lived simply but comfortably. Sarah's parents had provided some of the necessities of life to help them make a good start. The blessing of a child was not long in coming when on the 15th of October 1843, William and Sarah's first child, a son, Edwin Hillier Adams arrived. Named for relatives on both William and Sarah's side of the family, little Edwin grew robust and sound. Their second little one, James, arrived 30 Oct 1844 and filled their home with happy baby sounds and delights. Edwin, just a little tike himself, gave great attention to this new arrival. But it was to be a short life for little James and with aching, even breaking hearts, Sarah and William had to set their precious child into a grave on what was for them a cold day in June 1846. James succumbed, as did so many in those days, because of limited medicinal knowledge. Little did Sarah and William know what lay ahead as they mourned baby James.

Tom Fry Adams had arrived next on the scene on 11 Feb 1846 and happily he grew, without the fearful sickness that had overcome tiny James. He gave back much of the joy the family needed after their loss. By now they had moved to Blandford in Dorset a few miles from Great Canford where William continued in his occupation. Tom was quickly followed by a sister, all sweet and soft, near the end of 1847. She was given the name Sarah Eliza after her mother. Having a little girl in the house was a new experience for the Adams' menfolk and as little girls are wont to do -- she cuddled herself a place in the very depths of their hearts.

William continued to watch over his mother. By 1851 his brother Henry had taken over the responsibility of providing her support and care, although the 1851 census indicates she was taking good care of herself as a retired business person. William had talked with her about better opportunities, needed opportunities to provide for his growing family. News had reached England of opportunities in Australia - perhaps this is where his future lay. The infant colony, long a fascination to many, held an even stronger magnet for William and he was no exception to its pull. So, in the year 1848 in the month of December, William, wife Sarah, their sons Edwin and Tom and infant daughter Sarah, boarded the "David Malcolm" at Plymouth, Devonshire and bade farewell to home and country forever. As England slipped further and further from view, the realization of leaving for good all she knew and loved, including little James' grave, Sarah was overcome and wept upon her husband's broad shoulder. Mary Matilda Hillier, a sister of Sarah, would also make her way across the vast ocean to Australia, traveling with her husband John Scott Lithgow as well as with Sarah and William, but that is her story ...

The crossing, never easy, especially for those who are used to solid ground beneath their feet, was to become even more difficult for our little family. Sarah, pregnant now with her fifth child, endured it as best she could. Rocking and rolling decks, odors of illness and old wood, food that lacked not only good taste, but much nourishment and small children to preserve were what she knew during that voyage. She had limited choices. Huge expanses of ocean lie before and behind and there was no respite and rest from the monotonous and often life-threatening movements of the ship. She had thousands of miles yet to go, endure she must and endure she did. It was not so however, for little Sarah Eliza. Her little body, now especially fragile, hung tenaciously to life. She was sustained for a time by the tender ministration of her loving and gentle parents which included tears and pleas for the preservation of her life. Mother Sarah held her close and wept, doing all within her power and limited abilities would allow her to do, but tiny Sarah Eliza could not endure and she slipped from the cares and woes of her short life to lay limp in their arms. Gone was her dimply smile, her sparkly eyes and her little arms could no longer entwine themselves around her daddy's neck, no more wet kisses or baby delights - Sarah Eliza had returned to her heavenly home from whence she had come. It caused great anguish in the hearts of her little family and even the captain of the "David Malcolm" sadly noted in his ship's log that "the infant Sarah E. Adams had died during the voyage". She was buried at sea, the date not given, and one can only imagine the depth of feeling, the finality as her little form slipped from the board, consigned to the waves of the sea. The sound would remain with William and Sarah for the rest of their lives.

The trauma at the loss of Sarah Eliza and the constant motion of the ship with it's attendant fears, brought Louisa Mary Adams into the family somewhat sooner than expected. In fact, Sarah gave birth to her just shortly before the ship docked at Port Adelaide, South Australia, on 7 April 1849. She was a determined little miss and perhaps knew of the void she had to fill. Louisa was a special blessing to the family - Sarah's arms had ached with emptiness and now they felt that softness and warmth of a new life and were filled. Louisa filled not only empty arms, but broken hearts too. In a much spritlier hand we note that the captain of the "David Malcolm" announced in his log the birth of the baby girl to William and Sarah. It was such a happy occasion - and many thanks were offered to God for her safe arrival.

Hindley Street, Adelaide in November 1849. The Adams family had arrived in the almost brand new city of Adelaide - in fact "city" was still a future dream, in 1849 it was not yet a decade old, and humpies and homes intermingled with track and road and merchant establishments - but the future was clear for Adelaide, for it became a beautiful city filled with fine homes, wide and clean highways and roads, shining buildings and a well-planned city centre. William headed his family into the country, to the Murray District of South Australia where he could continue with his occupation as dairyman. He also registered himself as a gold digger and worked hard and long at that occupation too. Life was difficult, different and often harsh especially in direct contrast to the soft climes and familiar ways of far-away England. However, even as still a young woman, Sarah held herself and her family apart from the rough and often crude ways of the gold diggers environs. William at age 29 years and Sarah at only 25 years of age, had had five children and buried two of them. We know they hoped for better things in Australia. But difficulties and sadness continued to persist in their young lives. While living in South Australia Sarah and William had three more daughters - and buried two of them. Eliza was first in 1850, then Lucy in 1851 and finally Ellen in 1852, Lucy and Ellen, like tiny flowers beginning to bloom, would wither away and die before their eyes - their feelings of helplessness and deep grief increased their feelings of being powerless to help them and it grieved their young hearts so to see such tiny ones come and go with alarming speed and regularity. William and Sarah themselves, grew old before their time.

In 1853 William and Sarah moved to the state of Victoria, to the mining town of Castlemaine, in the area formerly known as Forrest Creek, where William once again registered himself as a gold digger and quartz miner. Castlemaine was cold in the winter and Sarah worried about her children and their needs. Still, she flung herself bravely into this new world and she and William quickly settled in and got about the work of providing a living for their family. It had not been that long before their arrival that the word "EUREKA"!! had echoed around the world. Huge nuggets of gold were practically laying on the surface of the ground, thousands had descended upon the goldfields of Victoria, all going after that elusive metal - although for some it was just there for the taking. William joined the throngs, he felt the hardships were worth what he and his family might have to endure, for the shining gold could solve so many of their problems and privations. His knowledge of the quartz mining industry was a great asset to the fledgling community and the fact that he was a respected family man helped give an air of permanance to Castlemaine and the Adams family itself. Castlemaine had a rich vein in the quartz reef and promised work for a long time. Eventually, William would become an employee of the Castlemaine Mining Company as a quartz miner and would take good care of his growing family. However, the for the immediate time, it was rough, noisy, dirty and difficult. Mining camps provided their own kind of pioneers, rough, ready and determined. Many became prominent citizens and gave a valuable gift of self to each community in which they lived.

On the 25th of March 1855 in Castlemaine, Sarah gave birth to their ninth child and sixth daughter, Alice Elizabeth Adams. Her birth was quickly followed by that of Alice Eliza on 27 May 1856. No reason has been given as to why these two daughters carried the same first name. Children were coming quickly now - and living! The Adams' home was filling to the brim with the happy sounds of children's laughter and chatter. Although Castlemaine had cold winters, the more hospitable and warmer climate of the rest of the year assisted those whose constitutions were not strong and certainly assisted in keeping them alive.

Life was difficult for children in the goldfields, danger lurked everywhere and as diligent as mothers were, tragedies struck. So it was for little Eliza Mary. The following is a transcript of the Inquest held following her death:

Burial record of Pennyweight Kids - drowned in a water hole. Inquest #43. Courtesy of Ian Hockley.

Inquest #43 transcript of Sarah Adams Deposition of Witness:


The examination of Sarah Adams of Forest Creek taken on oath this fifth day of June AD 1855, at Forest Creek before the undersigned, a Coroner in the said Colony. This deponent on her oath saith as follows: I am the wife of William Adams father of the deceased child and mother of the deceased. Yesterday the 4th Inst. my child, along with some others, was playing outside my tent at about 4 oclock p.m. In about a quarter of an hour I heard an alarm that a child was drowned in a water hole. In a few minutes my husband informed me my child was brought home quiet dead, but I felt too much affected to see her body at the time - and could not make up my mind to see her till this morning.

The deceased child was in the habit of playing with other children. Her age is four years and a half.

Signed: Sarah Adams

Taken and Sworn before me the fifth day of June AD 1855 at Forest Creek

Signed: Henry Howlett, Coroner

Ruled: That the deceased child was accidently drowned by falling in a water hole at Dirty Dicks Gully, Forest Creek on Monday the 4th Instant.

Sarah had been occupied with her new baby, just two months old, and with preparing the evening meal. She had told her little Eliza to stay near the tent door and not to wander "near water". The Inquest goes on to describe the extreme sorrow of both parents, but especially of Sarah who "cried for several days" over the loss of her child. We can glean but a small amount of the suffering she experienced.They buried their precious little one at Pennyweight Flats, a burial ground for children. Her little grave among so many others silently surrounded by beautiful eucalypts.

Notwithstanding all that William and Sarah had gone through, they were the stuff pioneers are made of and they doggedly and strongly continued their lives. Their next child, William Edgar Adams was born 26 July 1857 and on the 23rd day of July 1859, Bessy (Bessie) Sarah joined the family. At age 31 Sarah was taking care of home, William and seven little ones - four of them under the age of 5 years! But it was wonderful to have them alive and happy and Sarah and William were good parents, gentle and just. Castlemaine was a growiong community, the goldrush boomtown was settling into a quieter, steadier village of storekeepers, farmers, and miners, almost all with families to add stability and a sense of decorum. Churches came and added proprietry, schools came and children learned, milliners and dressmakers came and with them fashion and a sense of beauty. It was a good place to be, clean and open, the smell of fresh-cut gum trees hung on the air; kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras reminded one and all that this was Australia, young, vibrant, alive and growing. Each person was a part of that excitement and environment, the making of a town and a nation.

William and Sarah were not finished producing babies yet and Castlemaine's population would increase by three more Adam's children. Ada Elizabeth Adams came along on the 30th day of November 1861; Fanny Martha on 29 February 1864; Jessie Amelia on 19 October 1865 and an infant child born and died in 1869 at Castlemaine. Henry (Harry) born in 1870 to William and Sarah's daughter Louisa Mary Adams would be raised in the family home and in every way was their son. Only little Fanny did not live long, dying at the tender age of 3 years in Castlemaine on 23 April 1867. Her passing brought the number of children gone from William and Sarah to six and reopened healing wounds of sorrow and loss. William and Sarah and their family of now eleven children were still in Castlemaine until the early 1880's. Then a move to Melbourne and a change in occupation to that of newspaper agent. It was then that sons and daughters began marrying or setting out own their own to find their "gold fields". Alice Eliza married Isaac Fisher and had at least two sons. Bessie Sarah married Frederick Charles Fasham 12 Oct 1882 and they had seven children. Ada Elizabeth married 11 Sep 1884 to John William Lithgow, Sr. and they became the parents of 10 children. Jessie Amelia married Thomas Beggs in 1888 and they had three children. All of these marriages took place in Melbourne where William and Sarah had settled, around the area of South Melbourne and Richmond. Most of the Adams clan died young in life, perhaps their early hardships or illnesses that went indiagnosed or untreated until it was too late, or constitutions unable to defend themselves against disease and hard lives. Whatever the reason, when William Adams died on the 7th day of October 1891, he left only seven of his sixteen children still living and on the 25th of May 1897 when Sarah Hillier Adams passed away, only five of their children remained living -- Tom Fry, Bessie Sarah, Ada Elizabeth, Jessie Amelia and Harry. Edwin Hillier had died at the age of 24 years in Castlemaine on 25 Sep 1867. Even Jessie Amelia would die 2 months after her mother on 28 July 1897 at the young age of 31 years, leaving a young family to mourn her loss.

Of these remaining Adams' however, a great heritage and posterity has survived. Bessie lived to the ripe age of 84 years, here she is in 1935 and Ada Elizabeth until 87 years of age and Australia has been enriched by the presence and effort of stalwart pioneers such as these. They were people who sacrificed not only their homeland and families there, but as we see in the Adams family, many of their children succumbed to the vicissitudes of life. Australia owes her beginnings, present and future to such as these who "more than selves their country loved."

I am proud to be part of the family of Adams and prouder still of their contributions to a better life and to a dedicated people, in the building of a nation - Australia, my heritage and my legacy.

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