What the Butler did

A collection of writing by Brother Tony Butler

Chapter 6 The story of the Day Girls from Sofala to the Orphanage and Beyond February 11, 2014

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To The Honourable,

The Colonial Secretary:


From: The Vicar General’s Office

St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney

28 November 1859


I have the honour to request that His Excellency the Governor General may be pleased to sanction the admission into the Roman Catholic Orphan School [Parramatta] of the following children:

Day, Mary Anne          6 years

Day, Matilda                5 years

Day, Julia                    4 years

Day, Elizabeth             2 years

Both parents are Catholics.  Their father has been sentenced to Cockatoo and their mother is utterly destitute.  The Magistrates have sent the children to the Very Reverend Dean Grant, Bathurst, for transmission to the school.


I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient servant


What heartbreak lay behind this simply worded request?  Who were these four Day girls, and what brought them to this pass at the sad ages of six, five, four and two? And who are they to me?

My father’s older sister, Julia Butler, went to live with her McLean grandparents, Julia and Malcolm, after her mother, Lilian (McLean) Butler, died in 1910.  Julia’s grandmother, Julia (Dedicoat) McLean, was the daughter of a convict-later-turned-bushranger, and was one of those four Day girls placed in the Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta in 1859.  Julia McLean never spoke of her convict-bushranger father’s history but she told my aunt enough stories for her to draw some conclusions about her great grandfather William, born and christened as William Dedicoat, transported as William Jones, married as William Day, author of Old Convict Days as William Derricourt (or Derrincourt), sometimes spelt Derecourt.  My aunt never knew the whole story.  After her death in 1982 I began the serious research which led me to the conclusions in this history of the Day girls.

Had the Day girls’ father not been a father, his story would have been immensely exciting; because he was a father – and a husband – his story had a tragic effect on his wife and children.  Had he been a different kind of man, his wife may have coped better as a mother and not been forced to put her daughters into an orphanage, a move which no doubt changed their lives, their attitudes and their way of relating to others forever.

William Day was an adventurer.[2]  By the time of his death at the age of 78 he had packed as much into his life as any Hollywood swashbuckling hero.  The full story has an element of the tragic.

Discovering the true identity of William Day took much work over many months in 1985; discovering his full history is an ongoing task.  What follows are the facts as far as can be reasonably ascertained by this researcher.  From the outset, it must be acknowledged that some of the dates are difficult to be absolutely certain about: they are drawn from Day’s personal memoirs, Old Convict Days,[3] as well as archival records from England and Australia, and these records often conflict.[4]

William Day was born William Dedicoat, 5 June 1819, to William Dedicoat and Mary Humphries (married 29 October 1821), in a house between the Maypole and the Packhorse Inns on the Redditch Road in King’s Norton, a village some 10 kilometres south of Birmingham, England.  Norton (OE nord tun – north farm), referred to in the 1086 Domesday Book, became known as King’s Norton in the 13th century.

St Nicolas Church Kings Norton 2009

St Nicolas Church Kings Norton 2009

William was christened William Dedicoat in St Nicolas’ church, King’s Norton, 26 October 1823.  He was the oldest of seven children, his younger siblings being Richard (christened 1824), Leonard (1826), Samuel (1829), Matilda, (1831), Ann (1834) and John (1836).

He did not do well at school: “If I did not shine at my books, I certainly showed the same turn for mischief and adventure which distinguished my future life.”

Kings Norton Grammar School 2009

Kings Norton Grammar School 2009

He was apprenticed to Toby Duffell, a gun-lock filer and publican in Darlaston.  Bullbaiting was a regular entertainment on Monday, cock-fighting on Tuesday, and Dedicoat took to both with a ready will.  He soon ran away and his adventures landed him in Stafford gaol for a month, tried as a runaway apprentice.  It was the first of many spells within prison walls.

Back in Darlaston, he was turned over with his indentures to Tom Butler, another gunsmith and publican.  With Tom Butler, things were much the same as they had been with Duffell.  Dedicoat was soon on the run again: Butler’s son was arrested for killing a lad in a boxing match, so Dedicoat, his second, headed south never, as he says,[5] to see Darlaston again for fifty years, when he supposedly returned to England (1882) in a chancery suit.[6]  Further adventures followed which reveal a sensitive, not to say compassionate, side to William’s nature.  A fuller account of his adventures can be found in his memoirs and on the website What the Butler Did.

Soon afterwards, he was apprehended for trying to sell a waistcoat, only to find “to my horror that I was offering a stolen waistcoat to the constable of the place”.  The times were violent: Derecourt lived in the midst of murder and chicanery, cholera and wife-selling,[7] false pretences and deceit.  No wonder he gave himself the name of William Jones when he was arrested and removed to Stafford to await trial at the next Quarter Sessions.  The witnesses took their oath before John Clare, Clerk, in the County of Stafford, 7 May 1839.  William Savage claimed that “on Wednesday afternoon last I heard that my house had been robbed.  I went home and discovered that I had lost a Waistcoat, Two Handkerchiefs and other articles from the house.”  Derecourt made no great effort to get off, considering that life would not be too bad in the colonies where “by patience, submission and industry I might one day become a respectable member of society, even a man of ample means”.  Alas, William Dedicoat, now known as William Jones, though he made a lot of money, never quite achieved respectability until towards the end of his 78 years.  Given the destitute condition of his wife in 1859 and the years following, we must wonder what he did with the money he made from gold.

For his pains he was sentenced to “ten years’ transportation beyond the seas”, and was sent to the hulks at Woolwich, quarters being assigned to him aboard the Justitia.  The prisoners were scrubbed so that they looked like “boiled lobsters”, had their hair clipped “as closely as scissors could go”, and were supplied with “magpie suits”, one side black, the other side yellow. Then the iron links went on, and William Jones (3rd) became Number 5418.[8]

And so William Dedicoat, alias William Jones, said farewell to old England forever, more or less, as he sailed out of Portsmouth on the Asia for Van Diemen’s Land, via Teneriffe, 17 April 1840, six weeks short of his twenty-first birthday.  His Convict Record Sheet gives these details: “JONES, William (3rd), tried at Stafford Quarter Sessions, 2 July 1839, and sentenced for ten years for housebreaking (stated this offence).  Gaol report: not known (to be) disorderly.  Hulk report: good.  Surgeon’s report: general conduct – indifferent.  Protestant.  Can read only.  Trade: boatman.  Height: 5ft 8 ins.  Age: 18.[9]  Complexion: fresh.”

The convict records from Port Arthur, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) are very detailed and also very difficult to read from photocopy.  Australian novelist Christopher Koch has studied these records and made a comparison of the recorded facts of Dedicoat’s behaviour in Van Diemen’s Land from his arrival per Asia 5th, 6 August 1840, till his release on Ticket of Leave 23 May 1848, with the version Dedicoat gives in Old Convict Days.  Koch wrote to the editor of The Observer in Sydney, 18 August 1960, saying that he had studied Dedicoat’s convict records and crossed-checked them with Derecourt’s[10] memoirs.  His conclusion is that the convict record “corresponds closely to the book’s account but there are intriguing departures”, and adds that “the accuracy of the Conduct Records cannot be over-stated: offences, particularly if they are not there, did not happen”.  The reader can discover further details of Dedicoat’s Port Arthur sojourn from his personal memoirs.

He received his Ticket of Leave 23 May 1848 and moved immediately to Launceston and more adventures.  After a spell there, he sailed from Tasmania to Port Adelaide where he became a mailman on the Mount Gambier mail run.  This was an exciting period of battles, willing lubras (he is nothing if not discreet), a state funeral, murder, trials and bushfires.[11]  His account of his escape from the bushfire is such a wonderful piece of imaginative re-creation that it deserves to be read in full.[12]

And so, via Geelong and Melbourne, William at last arrived in Sydney.  Even his journey to Sydney from Melbourne provided a lucky break.  He travelled per Favourite[13] and met a young man, Henry Mahony, whose story gave him an entrée into the Crispin Arms Inn, Clarence Street, and a meeting with his future wife.  He spun the young man’s mother an incredible tale which she accepted and the upshot was a touching reunion of mother and son, a splendid meal and love at first sight.  The story of Dedicoat’s wooing and marriage of Mary Kirwin is told later in this account.  Suffice it to say here that he changed his name to Bill Day and married the Catholic girl at St Philip’s Anglican Church, Church Hill, 6 April 1852, and eventually took up residence in Sofala, near Bathurst, on the gold diggings.

Garry Tipping has gone to some trouble to ascertain more accurately the dates of William’s early adventures in Sydney.  Having researched the details of the ship Favourite, Tipping suggests the most likely time of Dedicoat’s arrival in Sydney as 15 August 1851.  Dedicoat moved to Sofala soon afterwards: the flood at Little Oakey Creek referred to in Dedicoat’s memoirs[14] occurred, according to Tipping’s researches, 18 December 1851; and Tipping points out that a man named Smith whom Dedicoat says he buried,[15] died 12 January 1852.  Dedicoat’s story that he returned to marry Mary Kirwin one month after he first saw her rather compresses the actual time.  At best it was six or eight months later, since the wedding certainly took place 6 April 1852.

Café Sofala 1997

Café Sofala 1997

William was a man of many trades.  In Sofala he was a gold miner, and being a hard worker he was commensurately rewarded.  He also took up his old trade as gunsmith during these years.  Gun-smithing here implies mending guns and pistols rather than making them: he had been apprenticed to a gun-lock filer rather than a gun-maker.  Dedicoat – now known as Bill Day – also worked as a blacksmith, carpenter, coffin-maker and undertaker, on the site now occupied by the Cafe Sofala.  In a letter of 1891[16] he was referred to as a hatter – yet another occupation, I thought, until I discovered that “hatter” was a colloquialism for a bush-worker who lived and worked alone.  Day was also described on his eldest daughter’s birth certificate as a tinsmith, further suggestion that he was prepared to turn his hand to anything.

In the next few years several children were born, about whom he was quite vague in his memoirs; in fact he never mentioned them or his wife by name and never made it clear that there were four children, all girls, nor when they were born.  Nor does he ever refer to a fifth child, a son, born in 1859, of whom more later.

So we turn to his bushranging episode, but not before questioning why an apparently successful gold miner with a wife and four young daughters should risk all by turning to bushranging.  To that question there can, unfortunately, be no satisfactory or certain answer.

William tells the story quite vividly in his memoirs and emerges from it as a hero let down by his supposed mate, Robert Wilson.  The bushranging episode was, put simply, a plan to hold up the Bathurst Mail on its way up Mount Victoria, near Hartley, 24 June 1859.  Day and Wilson held up the coach with a double-barrelled gun and a large horse pistol.  One of the passengers was the Honourable L. Holyoake Bayley, Attorney-General for the Colony.  The two bandits stayed overnight at an inn and next day Wilson and Day were arrested by the police, led by the Superintendent of the Western Mounted Patrol, the “gallant” Captain Edward Montague Battye, who had been alerted by the publican, himself an ex-policeman.  Day had been betrayed in an obviously planned move by Wilson.  Wilson turned Queen’s evidence, leading Battye to the hidden plunder consisting of some £4,800.  Wilson later disappeared and was never heard of again, much to the chagrin of the authorities, including the Chief Justice of the Colony, Alfred Stephen.

Battye accuses Day in several letters of being the man who “robbed the Mudgee Mail on two occasions” and says “I believe him to have been concerned in . . . the highway robbery of W. Phillips in 1855 if not in the murder of Trooper Codrington on Wyagdon Hill”.  But Day was never officially accused, so the matter was not brought to court.  Day himself was horrified at the accusation and set out to establish his alibi.  This matter was never pursued.[17]

After a preliminary hearing at Hartley, Day was “committed to take his trial at the first sitting of the Circuit Court to be holden [sic] at Bathurst on the nineteenth of September”.  Presiding Judge Dickinson’s notebooks are in the NSW State Archives (they are difficult to decipher) and record a summary of the proceedings of 19 September 1859, though he did not record Day’s defence which was conducted by Day himself.  Day said: “I was then called on for my defence, but having no witnesses I produced certificates of character from the highest and most influential men on the western goldfields, including the Commissioner and JPs.  I addressed the jury for about an hour and a half.”  The Bathurst Free Press of 24 September 1859 tells it somewhat differently: “The prisoner when called on for his defence, made a long vague statement with a view to throw the whole blame upon Wilson”.  The judge having summed up, the jury retired for a few minutes and returned a verdict of guilty.  “The prisoner handed several certificates of character to the Judge, two of which were read by the Jury, but as no person in the court could prove the signatures of the others they were rejected”, says The Bathurst Free Press.

At this stage Day pleaded for mercy because his wife, who was in court, had four children and “was again near her confinement.”[18]

He was sentenced to seven years’ hard labour on the roads or other public works of the colony, and having been sent to Darlinghurst Gaol, finally arrived on Cockatoo Island.

Cockatoo Island Convict Records describe great-great grandfather Day (Dedicoat) thus: William Day (arrived in Sydney) per Favourite.  Tried: Bathurst Circuit Court, 21 September 1859.  Sentence: 7 years to the Roads or Public Works.  Offence: Mail Robbery.  Age: 35.  Native Place: Staffordshire.  Religion: Roman Catholic.  Trade: Gunsmith and Blacksmith.  Complexion: Dark Ruddy.  Colour of Hair: Brown.  Eyes: Grey.  Height: 6ft 0 ins.  Remarks: Arms hairy.[19]

There were, as one might have come to expect, other escapades while Day was incarcerated on Cockatoo Island.  The official records read: 12th Oct. 1859: Received from Darlinghurst Gaol.  2nd Jan 1861: Discharged to Darlinghurst Gaol to take his trial[20] for manslaughter committed on the person of Jas Heals on 20th December 1860.[21]  lst Feb. 1861: Received from Darlinghurst Gaol.  17th Oct. 1861: Answer to petition “from the report of the state of his health the Board suggest that he may be a fit object to be invalided to Berrima Gaol”. – No. 74 this date.[22]  lst April 1864: Fighting on the works, Admonished and discharged.  19th Sept.1864: Petition refused – C.S. No. 57 dated this day.  10th Oct. 1865: Residue of sentence to be remitted on 21st Dec. next – No. 62 this date.  21st Dec. 1865: Discharged free.

One of the more intriguing episodes that occurred during Day’s time on Cockatoo involved the supposed writing of a letter to his wife.  He tells the story in his memoirs, Old Convict Days.[23]  The notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner recommended that Day send a petition requesting partial remission of his sentence.  Day doubted that such a letter would leave the island.  Gardiner was due for release soon and Day concocted a plan to have the letter written on Gardiner’s back.  A favourite cat provided some hair from its tail which was used to create a paint brush.  Day got hold of some red lead, started a nose bleed, and mixed a paint.  The draftsman in the shop wrote a letter on Gardiner’s back, stating the grounds of Day’s petition.  It seems that Gardiner “faithfully delivered my message, as I had a letter from my wife telling me that Gardiner had given her all the particulars, which should be attended to.”[24]

Mary Day may have received some such letter.  What is certain is that she wrote in 1864 to the Governor seeking remission of her husband’s sentence.  The NSW State Archives include Mary Day’s petition, a reply by the Chief Justice, Alfred Stephen, a further petition from William Day and a recommendation for release signed by W. Mann, which is acceded to 10 October 1865 by the Governor, Sir John Young.

In May 1864 a petition was sent to the Governor praying remission of William Day’s  sentence: “This petition . . . humbly shewith [showeth] that your petitioner’s husband was tried at Bathurst . . .”, received an injury going to the rescue of a fellow convict, came to the assistance of several warders under attack, that he was in danger of being set upon by other prisoners, and finally “that your petitioner having four small children depending on her for support and that her husband has never before been convicted of any crime[25] she prays your Excellency will be pleased in your great mercy to grant your petitioner’s husband the remission of the remaining portion of his sentence or whatever portion your excellency may think fit in your great mercy to grant.  I am now in great need of protection for myself and children, as my health lately has been on the decline and your petitioner will in duty bound ever pray.”  It concludes with: “Mary Day, Seymour Street, Bathurst.”

It appears that there are now only four children.  Mary Ann, Matilda, Julia and Elizabeth were, as we have seen, put into the Catholic Orphanage at Parramatta in 1859 or early 1860, and Richard was born November 1859.  Given the names of the four children on Dedicoat’s 1897 death certificate (Mary Anne 43, Julia 40, Matilda 39 and Richard 30),[26] it must be Betsy who has died.  From information received,[27] Betsy almost certainly died at the Parramatta Catholic Orphanage for Girls, 2 December 1862.  And we must ask: does Mary know and conceal the fact of Day’s imprisonment in Tasmania or is she ignorant of it?

The details of this period of Mary Day’s life are obscure.  According to her petition she was living in Bathurst during the 1860s.  Stories within the family say that the children were in an orphanage for some time, and the letter from the Vicar General’s Office, St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 28 November 1859, proves this was so.  Day, in his memoirs, referred to “the kind friend” who was looking after his children while he was on Cockatoo Island.  This seems like just another of Dedicoat’s justifications or what looks like his regular way of coping with the realities of his life, so often seen in his memoirs.

Mary Day’s petition of May 1864 is sent to the Superintendent of Cockatoo Island, 28 May 1864, and to the Chief Justice, l June 1864.  Superintendent G.K. Mann summarises the details from Day’s Record Sheet but makes no recommendation.  The Chief Justice replies 2nd September 1864: “It has been impossible for me without neglecting more pressing duties, to report on the petition of William Day . . . Sir John Dickinson’s notes in the case are voluminous and I have had great difficulty in deciphering them”.[28]  He then talks about the seriousness of the crime and he concludes: “There are strong circumstances of good conduct and something more, since his conviction, in favour of the extension of indulgence to the prisoner.  He is, however, a bushranger, and two years only of his sentence remain unexpired.  The balance on these conflicting considerations I must submit to the decision of His Excellency.  It is not altogether within my province”.  Signed by Alfred Stephen.

A year later Day himself petitioned the Governor, Sir John Young still, showing that “the petitioner has now served with good conduct and industry a period of six years and humbly prayeth that Your Excellency will take his case into merciful consideration and be graciously pleased to grant him such remission of the residue of his unexpired sentence as Your Excellency may seem meet”.  William Day signs with his mark.  Another account of his police history is appended and is marked with a recommendation for a remission of the rest of his sentence, signed by G.K. Mann, the Superintendent of Cockatoo Island.

Day’s letter has written across it “His Excellency [A — ] – 7th Oct/65 gives authority for [the release of] William Day on 21st Dec. next.  J.Y.  l0th Oct.  Superintendent [J Y — Police] 10th Oct. 1865”.[29]

And so Day was released indeed, three days before Christmas as he says, but in 1865, not 1863.[30]

He returned to Sofala and took up his old calling as gunsmith, having borrowed £20 from the resident Magistrate, Joseph Walford JP, to do so.  It was a “Johnny-All-Sort” kind of establishment on Church Hill with its sign proclaiming “Carpenter and Blacksmith Shop –Guns and Pistols Repaired Here.”  He is to be found in the old Directories at Denison Street, Sofala from 1866 to 1894.  He “took a spare block of land[31] between the Hospital and the Parsonage at Sofala and built a house”.[32]  He is referred to in the Sofala District and Electoral Rolls for 1869–70 and in the Sofala Post Office Rolls 1878 and 1879.  On 9 February 1876 his name appears (as William Dericott) among a list of signatures on an “Application for the establishment of the Public School at Sofala.”  It may well be his own signature, a very neat, compact, legible signature – though his 1895 petition was signed with his mark.

An account of Dedicoat’s time in Sofala[33] tells that he was responsible for building sections of the telegraph line from Sofala to Bathurst; being “as strong as an ox”, he was able to handle the telegraph poles without any assistance.  He built a house, “having a frontage of 35 feet to the Sofala and Bathurst Road”, near the Showground; and there he lived “with his daughter, and prospected among the dry gullies, living to a grand old age into the present [i.e. 20th] century.”  Brian Hodge, Frontiers of Gold, 1979, quotes from a manuscript by Mark Hammond, about 1901, saying he saw a man identified as Bill Day on Racecourse Hill “apparently as happy as a king, puffing his pipe, 40 years since gaining his liberty”.  This is only partly true, given that Day/Dedicoat died in 1897.

At some stage around 1882 Day returned to England.  He was involved in a Chancery suit, the details of which I know nothing: they are not given in his book and I have found find no evidence of this visit.  H.H. Neary, in his reminiscences Ghosts of the Goldfields. Pioneer Diggers and Settlers on the Turon 1940, says that Day would not return to England “which he cursed repeatedly for the ruin of his life in deporting him as a convict in his early manhood”; instead he sent “his niece (or a lady that claimed to be his niece) home to England to pick up the fortune that was left him – saying he would never return to the country that had wronged him”.  Neary’s account differs markedly from Day’s own memoirs: no such bitterness towards England occurs in them.

I am inclined to believe Day did return because he refers in his memoirs to being on the road between Shirley (some three miles due east of King’s Norton) and Birmingham.[34]  He probably visited his family at this time.  He was reconciled to his family many years earlier, before the Cockatoo Island period, perhaps 1856 or 1857, and certainly by the last years of his life he had established some correspondence with his family, “of which he is now by no means reckoned the black sheep”.[35]  “Before leaving the Turon, I bethought me I had never written to any of my family in the old country, and as I had a tolerable competence I would send them something as a reminder of their long-lost relative.  Accordingly I made up and sent to each of my six brothers and sisters about 3oz. of gold and 50 pound worth to my mother, father being long dead.”[36]

One of the last acts of this man of many stories was to dictate his memoirs for publication in the Sydney newspaper, The Sydney Evening News.  That they were dictated is attested to in a letter in the Mitchell Library, 27 August 1940, from the Mitchell Librarian.  The series was entitled Old Convict Times to Gold Digging Days.  Complete History of Australian Life for Fifty Years.  It ran from Saturday 11 July 1891 until 5 September 1891.  At the bottom of the first instalment the following note appears: “The history of William Derricourt, or Day, once of Darlaston, England, now of Sofala, NSW.”

By all accounts, Derecourt settled to sober ways and respectable old age until he declined somewhat, sought admission to, and died in, Bathurst Hospital, 20 April 1897 under the name Dedicoat, thus returning to the name appearing on his parents’ wedding certificate.

According to Pearce and Tipping, he was buried in a grave now unmarked in the present cemetery near his home beside his long-time friend, Bill Musgrave, having painted his own wooden tombstone with the inscription

I lie on your right hand

When the roses grow up

They will shade you and me

When decayed and forgot

God will not forget me

Born 5 June 1819 – WD[37]

So now that we have the story of William Dedicoat, or William Day, we must turn to that of Mary Kirwin, the mother of Dedicoat’s five children.

Mary Kirwin was fifteen years of age when she arrived, in the company of 243 orphan females and other immigrants, in Sydney, 29 June 1850, on the ship Maria.  She had been a farm servant in County Carlow, Ireland, and her parents, both deceased, were named Timothy and Martha.  Mary was C of R, i.e. Church of Rome, or Roman Catholic.  She could neither read nor write; her health was good and no remarks were recorded for her.  Mary Kirwin was probably born about 1835.

By March 1852 she was employed by Bartholomew and Ann Mahoney at the Crispin Arms, 112 Clarence Street Sydney, a “house of call for sailors and soldiers, and from first appearances rather a rough shop, although the landlady seemed a jovial hearty woman”.  Dedicoat calls her Mrs Marley in his memoirs, but Mary Kirwin’s marriage certificate and a directory of the time give her name as Mahony.

William Dedicoat describes Mary Kirwin (whom he never names) as a “good-looking” girl.  Having eyed the girl during the meal, he said to his companion, Henry Mahony: “That girl shall be my wife some day soon.  You keep an eye on her as I start for the diggings tomorrow morning, and this day month I shall be down again and marry her”.  She was “about sixteen years old”, and all of this was said “without [my] having spoken to her”.[38]  It was more like six or eight months later that he returned, as we have seen, and the wedding took place 6 April 1852.

Dedicoat returned to Sydney from the Turon, walking to Penrith, taking a coach to Sydney and staying for the rest of the day at the Dog and Duck in the Haymarket.  He proceeded up Brickfield Hill to King Street where at a confectioner’s shop he had a wedding cake made, “and a good one for three pounds”.  Thursday, 3 April 1852 he made his way to the Crispin Arms, “to my intended to whom be it remembered I had not yet spoken a dozen words”.

He entered “to their surprise” and in the presence of the girl’s mistress he said “Are you quite ready?”  “Without further hum or hah, she said Yes”.  Though Mary was “content and agreeable” to what he wanted, she wished to know about his religion, as she was a Catholic.  He said, “You can be married in any church you like.  I’m sort of Protestant, or in truth a Ranter, but I’m not particular, and if we get married and have any family the boys shall be Protestants and you can bring the girls up in your own persuasion.”

They went next day to St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, but it being Lent the priest would not allow them to get married because “the rules of the church forbade it”.  Nothing daunted, they went on Saturday to Dean Cowper, a Church of England parson, who directed them to St Philip’s, Church Hill.  There were the usual questions and the requirement that “she must have the consent of her parents.”  “I told him they were in Ireland and how could I get their consent”.  There were further problems: “You’ll have to be called three times in church, and we can only call twice in one day.”  William was not greatly bothered by rules: “Let us be called twice and I will give you five pounds for a licence.”[39]

And so the “next evening, in the company of Mr and Mrs Marley, the master and mistress of the girl, I went to the church and after the service the ceremony was performed and we returned home to the Crispin Arms.”  That was Sunday 6 April 1852.  Dean William Cowper, Church of England Chaplain, in the presence of “Batw [Bartholomew] Mahony and Ann Mahony her x mark”, at St Philip’s, Sydney, married William Day, bachelor, and Mary Kirwin, spinster, both “of this parish”.  Mary Kirwin had no idea what she had let herself in for: she is about 17; he is about 33.

Day was confident of himself, having made preparations for marriage before he got Mary Kirwin’s consent.  He said he was “determined to have a wife and at first sight took fancy to this one”.  Had he been refused he would have gone to the Registry Office and “the girls being assembled [I] would have declared myself in want of a wife, showing plenty of gold and notes”.  He never dreamt of failure; besides, he says, being “quite respectably togged out in my newly-purchased sailor’s garb and with my expectations did [you] think for a moment I would be long without a wife?”[40]

Day went off to Sofala a few days later and made arrangements for Mary Kirwin to join him after a month or so.

The marriage could not have been an easy one for the 17 year old Mary Kirwin.  She gets scant mention in the book, and it is hard to know what kind of woman she was, since all the information is told from Day’s point of view.  My conjecture is that she started off as a good mother, but conditions on the goldfields, her friendship with Wilson’s wife[41] and maybe her treatment by Day, turned her to drink and its inevitable consequences.

On one occasion Mary complained to him: “It does not look well of you working in the company of an unmarried girl”, which he had been; so he desisted.  On another occasion he was digging underground and his wife came to the top of the shaft and called him.  When he came up and asked what she wanted, she “seemed like one bewildered, and stammering and stuttering had only time to say ‘I – ’ when the whole ground under which I had been working sank bodily down, burying tools and everything I had below under hundreds of tons of dirt”.  When he asked Mary why she had called, she said she had “no particular object in going to the shaft and she knew not what possessed her to call me.”

From independent records we have details of his children’s births and their names, which he never mentions.  Their first daughter, Mary Ann, was born 10 April 1853 and was christened 1 May 1853 by William J.K. Piddington, a Wesleyan minister on the Bathurst Circuit.  William’s profession is given as tinsmith, one of his many professions.  Mary Ann was later to marry, as Mary Ann Derecourt, John Seech.[42]

Their second daughter, Matilda or Mathilde (according to different certificates) was born 4 August 1854. She was christened Roman Catholic by Fr Kums in the parish of Sofala.[43]  Her father’s occupation was given as digger.  She eventually married, as Matilda Derecourt, James Cross.

Day was a successful digger, making at this time thirty or forty pounds per night.  “Upon its being known that I was lucky”, he says, “some of my gossiping neighbours, getting on the vain side of my wife, persuaded her to employ a girl to help look after the two children and assist in the house affairs”.  He tried to dissuade her but, “the more I argued and remonstrated, the more bent she became on accomplishing her desire”.

One can hardly blame the lass, mother of two children at the age of nineteen, living in the rough conditions of the gold fields.  She was uneducated and not greatly experienced, whereas husband William had learnt to fend for himself at a very early age, having wandered around the Birmingham area for some years, in and out of jobs and scrapes, until he was eventually transported for stealing a waistcoat.  Ten years in Van Diemen’s Land, a variety of experiences in the Adelaide area, plus a worldly wisdom, a physical strength of some note and an ability to handle men and situations to his advantage, all those things must have made him a formidable husband and more than a handful for Mary Kirwin.

Mary, nonetheless, got her servant girl and William got a lesson on the dangers of boasting.  He brought the servant back from Sydney by several stages and whiled away the time by a “good deal of blowing and gassing”.  Unfortunately “my wife wormed out of her quite innocently, all particulars of my proceedings in Sydney, and getting on the soft side of her, heard of all my boastings in the coach on our passage over the Blue Mountains”.  The results were inevitable: William, “merry as a cricket”, was in the midst of displaying to his wife a real “darling of a two pound bonnet”, when up she sprang “with the fury of a tiger cat, snatched the millinery from my hands, gathered up all the other presents and toys without a word and bundled them into the flames of the hearth.”  There was more, but suffice it to say that he soon got the message and he says “foolish boasting was ever to prove a thorn in my side”.[44]

There were other children.

Julia, my great-grandmother, was born at Sofala 24 November 1855 and at her baptism, 24 January 1856, her name was recorded as Julia Dee.[45]  Given this confusion, I had originally relied on her death certificate and her brother Richard’s birth certificate for the date of her birth.  She was to marry, also as Derecourt, Malcolm McLean.

Elizabeth, or Betsy, was born 3rd December 1857 at Ironbarks.  “William Day, 40, gunsmith, of Birmingham, and Mary Curwin, 34, of Dublin.  Previous issue: 4 children.  Informant: William Day, father, Ironbarks”.  This certificate well illustrates the unreliability of the certificates associated with Day.  In 1857 he was 38, Mary was 22, and there were only three other children: he seems to have included Betsy among the “previous issue”.  Betsy almost certainly died at the Parramatta Catholic Orphanage for Girls, 2 December 1862, her name noted as Eliza Day.[46]

At this time, between 1857 and 1859, Mary Kirwin must have turned to drink.  How serious the matter was is hard to gauge.  Day introduced his former manager on the Turon, one Robert Wilson, who married a wife considerably younger than himself and could not control her.  It appears she and Mary Kirwin took to drinking together.  “After a time”, says Day, “I found my wife had been induced to join her in her cups; indeed on one occasion I found the two dancing on the floor Jack the Lad, to their own music and no dinner cooked.  Before the advent of Wilson’s wife my old woman was noted as a hard working woman, attentive to her household duties, and a kind and affectionate mother; but now these orgies were of a daily occurrence and how to mend matters puzzled me.  I got maddened to such a pitch at their increasing drunken fits that I was almost tempted to bundle both of them down a hole”.[47]

His inexplicable response to this situation was to go along with Wilson’s plan to hold up the Bathurst Mail, which they did 24 June 1859.

He ended up, as we have seen, in the Bathurst Court, tried and convicted by Judge John Dickinson, and sentenced to seven years’ hard labour, in spite of the fact that “he had a wife [she was present in court] and four children and his wife was again near her confinement.[48]

Mary was delivered of her fifth child and first boy, Richard, 4 November 1859.  “Father: William Day, confine(d) at Cockatoo, 40 England. Mother: Mary Kirwin, 24, Dublin, Ireland. now of Ranken Street, Bathurst.  Married April 1851, Sydney NSW, four children, Mary Ann 6, Matilda 5, Julia 4, Elizabeth 2, none dead”.  And although Mary could sign only with x her mark, she seems to have been a more careful informant than husband William.

What happened to Mary Kirwin and her five children while William was confined at Cockatoo?  References are scanty.  Apart from the fact that she had several addresses in Bathurst – Ranken Street and Seymour Street – nothing is certain.  In his book, Day writes “After dinner [early during his confinement on Cockatoo Island] I got my noble friend to write a letter to the kind friend who had taken charge of my children in my trouble, receiving in due time a favourable and most consolatory letter”.[49]  Now we know that by 28 November 1859 the four girls had been sent to the Very Reverend Dean Grant for transfer to the Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta.  This action was to cost Mary the affection of her children – Julia’s at least, for hers is the only story I have heard.

Nothing more is mentioned of his wife in the book.  What happened to Mary Kirwin?  I do not know.

What happened to the children in the Orphan School, when they left it, and what happened to them between leaving the Orphanage and their marriages, or in the case of Betsy, her death, are not easy questions to answer.

Roman Catholic Orphan School c.1864

Roman Catholic Orphan School c.1864

A little history as background to the Parramatta Orphanage.  In 1836 a government-funded Roman Catholic Orphan School opened at Waverley House.  It moved to permanent premises at Parramatta in 1844.  Salaried staff ran the school, with some involvement from the Sisters of Charity, until 1859 when the Good Samaritan Sisters[50] took over its management.  The Catholic Orphanage closed in 1886.  The Archivist of the Good Samaritan Sisters informed me that there are no records from 1859 till 1886; however, I believe the three Sisters who began work at the orphanage in 1859 were Sisters Magdalene, Gertrude and Agnes.

A Report from the Commission Appointed to Inquire into the State of Education throughout the Colony [of NSW], respecting the Orphan Schools at Parramatta, from the Sydney Morning Herald Monday 19 November 1855[51] gives us some insight into the conditions that prevailed in the Catholic Orphan School at Parramatta just before the Day girls arrived.  The Report makes upsetting reading, so one can only imagine what conditions were like for the children.  There is a glimmer of hope that, with the arrival of the Sisters, conditions improved and that the Day four girls aged six, five, four and – it is shocking to realise – two, were reasonably well treated, though the reality is that it is difficult for any institution to make significant changes to the prevailing culture in a short time.

Catholic Orphanage with Sisters c.1860 (maybe the day girls are in this photo)

Catholic Orphanage with Sisters c.1860 (maybe the day girls are in this photo)

“The Roman Catholic Orphan School consists of two distinct parts – a stone building, erected for the purpose, but ill adapted, and a brick building, recently added, which is still less suitable.  The ground attached to the institution is too limited in extent.

“The diet of the children appeared to us to be sufficient in quantity, but inferior in quality.  It seems to us a defect that the animal food is invariably boiled; the children never taste baked or roasted meat.  The kitchen is a dark and dirty apartment, unsupplied with the means of baking or roasting for the number of inmates.  [The kitchen] is so far from the dining-room that the food is frequently cold before it can be eaten.

“The dining-room is too small, unventilated, and ill-supplied with furniture; owing to the want of seats the children are obliged to stand at their meals.  Food is taken with the fingers, no implement being given to the children but spoons, although a large majority are old enough to use a knife and fork with safety and propriety.  [Think of the two year old Betsy.] It is scarcely necessary to observe, that the want of seats, of tablecloths, and knives and forks, tends greatly, not only to encourage habits of grossness, in taking food, but also to prevent the acquisition of civilised manners.  Perfect silence should be maintained at meals; inasmuch as, if allowed to talk, the great number would soon render hearing impossible.

“In many particulars the dress of the children is peculiar and unbecoming, without any extra advantages in the way of cheapness or convenience.  Very few wear shoes and stockings, and none have clothes which are distinctively their own.  The children sleep in the under-garments worn by day, which are only changed once a week; they should be changed oftener, or it would be better to supply them with night clothes.

“Some portions of the house seemed dirty, especially the windows; the female servants were slatternly in their dress, and uncleanly in their persons; in both respects showing a very bad example to the children.  The water-closets are close to the kitchen, where the effluvium can be distinctly perceived, even in cold weather.  They are too small, too much exposed; and are in a filthy condition.  From our experience this is the cause of much indecency, if not immorality.

“The dormitories are very badly ventilated, and the old buildings in particular, infested with bugs; but a great improvement has taken place since our visit in May last; although coupled with beds, the accommodation is so insufficient, that in many instances two children are obliged to sleep together.  The mattresses are made of straw, which is changed as occasion requires.  Clean bed linen is distributed once a fortnight.

“The children are locked in the bedrooms, a very undesirable procedure, as there is no possible means of escape in case of fire – should the keys be mislaid, or the teachers in their alarm neglect to open the doors.  Care should be taken to preserve order and quietness in going to bed, while in the rooms, and on rising in the morning.  Private prayer should be encouraged, and the teacher should give instruction to the children on this subject.[52]

“There are three teachers who have the charge of the boys, girls, and infant schools respectively.  In addition to their proper duties as teachers, they are required to exercise surveillance over the children from the time of rising till they retire to rest … are answerable for their good conduct in the bedrooms … attending to the cleanliness and neatness of the children – of accompanying them to their meals, of watching them in the play-ground, and performing many offices of a menial kind.  The duty of instructing the children, together with occasional supervision, is sufficient employment for a teacher.  Other persons should take charge of them out of school hours.

“The Girls’ Schoolroom is ill adapted to the purpose, though tolerably well furnished.  Maps have been supplied since the appointment of the present matron.  The Infants’ School is destitute of gallery pictures, and every other appliance necessary for a school of the kind.  The children are extremely ignorant, and their minds entirely uncultivated.  [Think again of the two year old Betsy.]  No progress has been made in any branch of instruction.  Until the present matron took charge geography and grammar, and even arithmetic and writing were not taught.  They have the catechism very imperfectly, and understand as little of it as any children we have met with.

“It is much to be regretted that there are no means of teaching handicrafts.  Few of the children that we saw appear to possess constitutions sufficiently strong to enable them to endure the severe toil of a day-labourer.  If taught some lighter employment, such as gardening, they would have a much greater chance of success.  In the first place, the establishment would derive much pecuniary benefit from the cultivation of a garden.  The children employed in it would be learning a useful and healthy occupation, while at the same time they imbibed a love for the most innocent and delightful of recreations.

“Parents or friends, who visit the children, are permitted to see them in a part of the building separate from the rest.  [Did Mary Day ever visit the children?]  The children, unless sent specially upon a message, are, very properly, prevented from leaving the establishment: because the class of people with whom they would in all probability mix – outside the walls – would be rather calculated to injure than improve their morals.  But, as this seclusion tends to increase the difficulty of their position after leaving the protection of the school, it is necessary to provide some means of making them acquainted with the world in which they will have to live and labour.  To this end we recommend that, on certain days of the week, the children should be taken out to walk by the teachers.  These walks, together with their visits to church, would have the effect of familiarising them with the realities they will have to encounter in after life, while they would also strengthen and develop their muscular powers.

“In wet weather, the children play in the schoolrooms – a most objectionable course.  There should be a day room in which they could sit and read, or amuse themselves during the prevalence of unfavourable weather.  The day room should be furnished with seats and benches, a small library, pictures, and other objects of interest.  Every possible means ought to be adopted for expanding their minds and giving them a knowledge of the varied productions of the earth; especially as they are precluded from making the same observations that children more favoured by circumstances are enabled to make every day.”

One can only imagine the impact that some four or five years under such conditions had on these four girls.  Three of them survived and went on to marry, have families and many descendants; one died at probably five years of age.  Of the child Richard’s history I know nothing.  However, he was alive when his father died in 1897, according to William Dedicoat’s death certificate, so he lived to adulthood, and may also have married, produced a family and had many descendants.  At present I do not know.

We do know something of the three girls who survived – Mary Ann, Matilda and Julia.

While in the final period of his life Dedicoat makes no mention of his wife, he does refer a number of times to his daughter “living at Mr Greninger’s near Braidwood”.  And, as mentioned, Pearce and Tipping say that he built a house, “having a frontage of 35 feet to the Sofala and Bathurst Road”, near the Showground; and there he lived “with his daughter, and prospected among the dry gullies, living to a grand old age into the present century.”  A letter from the Braidwood Historical Society informs us: “There was a family by the name of Grenenger [sic] here in the 1860s.  Wenzil and James or John were born in Germany, named Gruinenger.  Bushrangers, the Clarke brothers, were very active in this district about that time, also Frank Gardiner and Starlight briefly.”[53]

This daughter was involved in several interesting episodes at the time: being captured by the Clark gang, meeting a “very tall man, seemingly covered with a coat of hair and looking as frightened of me as I was of him” – she described this creature as a “Yahoo”.[54]  It is most likely that it was Mary Ann who was looking after her father as referred to above.  We may never know the details of her story: born at Sofala, attending school there, transferred to the Orphanage at Parramatta, living with the Grenengers (possibly as a servant girl), her encounters with the Clark gang, meeting the “Yahoo”, probably travelling back and forth to her father in Sofala and looking after him till his death 20 April 1897, marrying, at the age of 25 years and nine months, John Seech, a Sofala man, in Bathurst 4 January 1879.  She had already given birth to a daughter, Florence, in 1870; the child died, aged two, in 1871.  She was buried in Sofala.  Miss Carol Churches, the archivist of the Anglican Cathedral in Bathurst, provided the information “– Derecourt, October 1871” from the Sofala Burial register, no Christian name, no specific date, no age.  Ken Taylor pointed out that what I thought may have been Mary (Kirwin) Day’s burial was in fact that of Mary Ann’s daughter Florence Derecourt, who lived less than two years.  Rita Birrell, née Seech, a granddaughter of John and Mary Ann Seech, says that Mary Ann used the Dericot form of the name: it appears in that form on the marriage certificate of her son, William John.

Nona Ruston told several stories of her grandmother, Mary Anne Seech, a formidable old lady who ruled the roost at her house: she once reprimanded one of the boys, who took no notice of her, so she promptly threw a fork at him and hit him in the eye!  Mary Anne recalled occasionally having to take food up the hill at Sofala to various bushrangers, of being in a stagecoach on one occasion, and of being held up by bushrangers.  When she blurted out at one of the bandits “I know you”, someone, according to Nona Ruston – her mother?, her father?, a Sofala local? – promptly clapped a hand across her mouth.  It also appears that Day would regularly do some horse-shoeing for the bushranger Starlight, an elegant man who would wait around with top hat and cane whilst his horse was being attended to.  He would leave town, and ten minutes later – “you could set your clock by it” – the troopers would ride into town in search of him.  Mary Ann died in 1931 at Annandale NSW aged 79.

Matilda, the second daughter, was apprenticed at the age of thirteen in 1867 to Mrs Connor of Shoalhaven.  We have no information as to when the girls left the Orphan School or what other employment they may have been engaged in; and we do not know how Matilda came to meet and marry James Cross in Sydney.  She was married, 2 March 1874, at the age of 19 years and six months, as Matilda Derecourt, to James Cross, 26, a bachelor and labourer, “both of Sydney”, at Elizabeth Street, Sydney, “according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church, at the home of the Reverend Doctor James Fullerton, Elizabeth Street, Sydney, as was the custom of the time”,[55] in the presence of Julia Derecourt and Peter Moss.  After that, the present author knows nothing of Matilda and James Cross’s story. She died in 1926 aged 72 at Marrickville, NSW.

Julia Dedicoat c.1875

Julia Dedicoat c.1875

Julia Dedicoat, aged 18, married Malcolm McLean, 29th April 1874.  On the wedding certificate her name is given as Derecourt.  Witnesses were Isabella Bell and Daniel McLean, and the ceremony also took place according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church at the home of the Reverend Doctor James Fullerton, Elizabeth Street, Sydney.  Malcolm’s occupation was given as cordial manufacturer, which had been his father’s occupation before him.  It is possible that when Julia left the Orphan School maybe in 1865, aged 10, the year her father was released from Cockatoo Island, she went to work in Surry Hills.  If she were a servant girl in the area, she may have met Malcolm McLean as he delivered cordial to the local houses; she may have even worked in the Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills, cordial factory.  Julia died 8 August, 1941 aged 86 at

Julia (Dedicoat) McLean later in life

Julia (Dedicoat) McLean later in life

Randwick, NSW.

Betsy, we can assume, died in 1862.  Of Richard I currently know nothing.

Mary Day’s death remains a mystery.  Possibilities for Mary Day’s death include “Mary Day, 3 February 1867, buried at Camperdown, born England, fifteen years in NSW”, and “Mary Day died 1890 aged seventy-four, at Camperdown, widow”.

Julia Butler/Blake, my aunt, who was raised by her grandmother Julia McLean, told me, and Nona Ruston, granddaughter of Matilda Seech recounted the same story as told her by my aunt, that on some unspecified occasion Mary Day came to visit her daughter Julia in Sydney.  Julia, who may have been married at the time, would not believe that the woman was her mother, until Mary produced a prayer-book and recited the Ave Maria, which appeared to serve as sufficient proof to Julia.  Sadly, even then Julia refused to have anything to do with the woman because of her perceived abandonment of them as children.  This brief story only adds to the heartbreak of the whole Dedicoat/Day saga.

If this visit took place when Julia was only about ten or twelve, i.e. about 1867, then it is possible that the Mary Day who died of phthisis (a wasting disease, consumption) 3 February 1867 and was buried at Camperdown Cemetery, was her mother. This woman had been in the Colony for 15 years, though the death certificate indicates that she came from England and gives no indication of marriage or children.  If Julia was a married woman when the visit occurred, then the Mary Day buried at Camperdown in 1890 could have been her mother, who being born in 1835, would have been 55.  It is impossible to clarify these details any further.[56]  Whatever the facts, the circumstances of Mary (Kirwin) Day’s life and death are tragic, made all the more so by her rejection by her daughter – we may regret Julia’s choice of action but dare not blame her.

Julia (Dedicoat) McLean and her sister Mary Anne (Dedicoat) Seech c.1918

Julia (Dedicoat) McLean and her sister Mary Anne (Dedicoat) Seech c.1918

Thanks to some family photographs we know that Mary Ann Day/Seech and her younger sister Julia Day/McLean kept some contact.  And I am fortunate that my aunt Julia Butler/Blake gave me several precious family photos ten years before she died.  Had she not done so, these photos would have disappeared.

Mary Ann Day’s husband John Seech had three children from his first marriage: John Oswell, Elizabeth Mary and Richard Edward.  She had a daughter, Florence, born out of wedlock in Sofala in 1870 when Mary Ann was about 17 or 18 years of age.  Florence died in 1871 aged 2 years and was buried in Sofala.  Mary Ann and John Seech had eight children: Robert J., Beatrice Mary, William John, Norman Thomas, Dora Winifred, George Arthur, Malcolm McLean (apparently named after Mary Ann’s sister Julia’s husband) and Oswald Leonard.

Matilda Day and James Cross had nine children.

Julia Day and Malcolm McLean had five children: Lilian, Daniel, Julia, Blanche and Malcolm.  Lilian, Daniel, Julia and Blanche married and had offspring; Malcolm died aged 11 years.  Lilian married William Edward Butler and they had five children: Edward, Julia, Sydney, Malcolm and Percy.  Malcolm Butler was my father.

Back: Malcolm McLean and wife Julia (Dedicoat) McLean. Front: Their daughter Blanche and Eliza (Helyar) Butler (See Alexander Edward Butler chapter). Family Picnic La Perouse September 1900

Back: Malcolm McLean and wife Julia (Dedicoat) McLean.
Front: Their daughter Blanche and Eliza (Helyar) Butler (See Alexander Edward Butler chapter).
Family Picnic La Perouse September 1900

The story of the four Day girls has a profound element of sadness to it.  However, we know that at least three of the children went on to happy marriages and the pleasure of large families, who, in turn, produced hundreds of descendants.  That is of more than some comfort in the whole sorry saga.

Back: Edward Butler, -, his brother Malcolm Butler, - Front: Julia (Dedicoat) McLean (grandmother of Edward and Malcolm) and others. McLean residence 38 Maroubra Bay Road c. 1921

Back: Edward Butler, -, his brother Malcolm Butler, –
Front: Julia (Dedicoat) McLean (grandmother of Edward and Malcolm) and others.
McLean residence 38 Maroubra Bay Road c. 1921










1.  Image on front cover: Julia Dedicoat aged about 18.

2.  I am indebted to Ken Taylor for reading the text, making corrections and suggestions, and allowing me to use several photographs which were not in my collection.

3.  I am especially indebted to Bonney Djuric who invited and inspired me to write the story of the Day girls.  Bonney’s work on the history of the various establishments on the Parramatta site has been of the utmost importance

Ken Taylor and the author are second cousins.  Ken’s mother, Lily, was the daughter of Daniel McLean, second child of Julia and Malcolm McLean, brother of Lilian (Butler), Julia (Donald), Blanch (Hickey) and Malcolm (died young).  Lily (McLean) Taylor, Olga (Donald) Nisbet, and author’s father Malcolm, aunt Julia and uncles Edward, Sidney and Percy Butler were first cousins.

Tony Butler

July 2013

[1] Archivist, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 18 December 1989.

[2] His story can be found on the web at What The Butler Did.  (The website requires updating.)

[3] William Derrincourt [Derricourt] Old Convict Days, first published in Sydney Evening News, 11 July 5–September 1891; reprinted as a book edited by Louis Becke in 1916; reproduced by Penguin Colonial Facsimiles editions 1975.

[4] I am indebted to the research which my second cousin Ken Taylor has done over many years.

[5] Old Convict Days Part I Ch. IV.

[6] I cannot find any independent evidence for this.  See comment p. 9.

[7] Old Convict Days Part I, Chs II and III.

[8] Ibid Part I Ch VIII.

[9] Anomalies like this made it difficult to come to definite conclusions about the facts of Dedicoat’s life.

[10] That is, in Old Convict DaysDerecourt is another version of Dedicoat’s name.

[11] Old Convict Days Part IV.

[12] See What the Butler Did or Old Convict Days Part IV Ch. V.

[13] By a curious coincidence, Favourite was the name of the barque built for Henry William Mortimer in Launceston, about 1838.  Mortimer was related to the author on his father’s paternal side.

[14] Old Convict Days, Part V Ch. III.

[15] Ibid Part V Ch. IX.

[16] Letter from J.W. James, Sofala, 24 August1891 published in The Sydney Evening News Saturday 29 August 1891.

[17] For all his adventures, Dedicoat does not appear to be a man for whom violence was the default position.  I believe murder was not in his make-up.  I believe that he was essentially an honest man, prepared to take his punishment.

[18] That information took me by surprise because I knew, from his death certificate, of only four children.  The information ultimately helped me prove that Dedicoat, Derecourt, Day and Jones were one and the same person.

[19] Some of these details differ from what is known from other records.  By 1859 Dedicoat was 40, and had grown 4” since 1839.

[20] Conducted by his old friend Judge Dickinson from Bathurst.

[21] This episode involved a spear throwing which ended in the death of James Heal who, before he died, exonerated Day of all responsibility.  “Well, Bill, I can’t blame you; it’s all through my bigheadedness this has happened.  It’s my own fault”.  Old Convict Days Part VII, Ch. VIII.

[22] He was never sent to Berrima.

[23] Old Convict Days Part VII, Ch. VII.

[24] Ibid.

[25] My italics.

[26] These ages are not correct.

[27] Bonney Djuric, email 27 Sept 2008.

[28] So did I.

[29] The script is not easy to interpret.

[30] The date given in Dedicoat’s memoirs – Part VII, Chapter XIV.

[31] Marked as William Dedicoat on a Sofala map of about 1870.

[32] June Durie, People and Places of Sofala.

[33] Joyce Pearce and Garry Tipping, A Walk Through Historic Sofala – In the Shadow of the Old Goldminer, Bill Day.

[34] Old Convict Days Part VIII, Chapter X.

[35] Old Convict Days 1899 edition.  Editor’s comment, p336.

[36] Old Convict Days Part V Ch. XVIII.

[37] This verse also appears at the end of his memoirs in the editor’s note.

[38] Ibid., Part V Ch. II.

[39] Ibid., Part V Ch. VI.

[40] Ibid, Part V Ch. VII.

[41] Ibid, Part VI Ch. I.

[42] The name is variously spelt Seech and Seach.  I have opted for Seech for the sake of consistency.

[43] The records are in the Catholic Church at Kandos.

[44] Ibid., Part V Ch. XII.

[45] This information courtesy of Ken Taylor.

[46] Courtesy Bonney Djuric, email 27 September 2008.

[47] Old Convict Days, Part VI Ch. I.

[48] The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 24 September 1859.

[49] Old Convict Days Part VII Ch. II.

[50] An Australian Institute of Sisters, founded by Archbishop Polding in 1857.  Until 1866 the sisters were called Good Shepherd Sisters, but the title was changed to avoid confusion with an older order of the same name.

[51] Courtesy of Bonney Djuric, June 2013.

[52] The Day girls learnt their Catholic prayers.  I recall my Aunt Julia, brought up by her grandmother Julia Day (McLean), saying that her grandmother always included the Catholic Hail Mary in her evening prayers, even though she was married to a devout Scottish Presbyterian.

[53] A letter from the Braidwood and District Historical Society, 15 May 1992.

[54] Old Convict Days Part VIII Ch. VII.

[55] The Librarian of the Sydney Presbyterian Church, 29 October 1985, explained that marriage in the Rev. Fullerton’s home was indeed the “custom of the time”.

[56] Ken Taylor suggests: “I prefer the 1867 death date for Mary in the Infirmary, Sydney, of phthisis, 30 years old. She may have been 32.”

Revised February 2014


A very special day


On Sunday 9 March 2014 I was privileged to attend and speak at a formal function at the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. Her Excellency Governor Marie Bashir truly graced the occasion with her presence and I was privileged to assist her in planting a commemorative tree. I cannot adequately express my appreciation of this wonderful woman’s intense interest in each person, her compassion and her utter dedication to this function.


This is a formal statement of the day: “Children’s Day 2014 is a free event sponsored by the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project. Coordinated by Bonney Djuric, it was an eventful day with many VIPs in attendance including the Governor Marie Bashir, Dr Geoffrey Lee MP, and Brother Tony Butler.


“Children’s Day connects past to present and brings together the community in a ceremonial planting of a Children’s Garden and various art and environmental activities designed for primary school aged children. Marking 170 years since the first children arrived at this institution, Children’s Day will remember the children who once lived here at this first purpose built orphanage for Catholic children in the colony of NSW.


“The Welcome to Country was given by Aunty Sandra Lee and assisted by Leanne Tobin and Gypsie Hayes, and there was also a choir of sixty children from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, most of whom had played an integral part in preparing the site through various service projects.


“There were many family-fun activities that included talking circles, painting daisies, making origami bats, gardening demonstrations, drawing, and exhibition spaces both in Kamballa and the Bethel building.”


My role in the day was to speak about my great grandmother and her three sisters who were inmates of the Roman Catholic Orphan School which occupied the site from 1844 till 1886. These girls aged 6, 5, 4 and 2 – the thought is shocking – were sent to the Orphanage at the end of 1859. I have no idea when they left, though the youngest girl Eliza (Betsy) died there in 1852. Her name is recorded on a Memorial Quilt along with the names of the other 128 children who died in the Orphanage. There are no records of the establishment, but I was fortunate to receive a document from the St Mary’s Cathedral Archives which gave me enough information to shape their story. I have been able to put together a rather substantial account of their lives, though there are great gaps in my knowledge.


I had the pleasure of sitting next to Governor Marie Bashir during the proceedings and assisting her with the planting of a tree to mark the occasion. I also gave an account of the Day girls’s involvement in the Orphanage. As I spoke a butterfly hovered around us much to the delight of the assembly. I took it as a sign that the souls of the children and their mother Mary Day finally found rest after their tough and troubled life.

Some pictures from the day

Tony with Governor Bashir

In front of the Memorial Quilt – Eliza Day’s name appears Row 3, second from left

Planting the Memorial Tree

Tony speaking to the assembly

From left: Tony, Governor Bashir, Local Member Goeff Lee, organiser Bonny Djuric




Governor Bashir and Brother Tony Butler


Governor Bashir and Brother Tony Butler in front of the Memorial Quilt











Tree Planting - Brother Tony Butler assisting Governor Marie Bashir  Brother Tony Butler addressing the gatheringL-R Br Tony Butler, Governor Marie Bashir, Dr Geoff Lee MP, Bonney Djuric, John Cunniffe (Church of LDS), Mike the Gardener



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