Russell Letters

The following article was published in the Gloucestershire Family History Society Journal, No 111, December 2006.

Letters from London

by Grahame Thom

My great grandfather John Edmund Miller Russell came alone to Sydney, Australia, from London, in 1861 on the ship Light of the Age. John was born on 28 April 1843 at 15 Hanover street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. His father Richard Artus Russell, was baptised on 25 December 1813, at Cheltenham, and his mother Ann Miller, was baptised on 14 June 1812, at Bath. They were married on 13 January 1833, at Swindon and Richard was a printer machine minder. Sometime around the late 1840s the family moved to Holborn, London. Richard died on 21 April 1891 at 31 Langdon Road, London, and Ann died on 27 January 1892 at the same address.

After arrival John probably worked as a draftsman and in 1875 he was employed by the NSW Department of Lands as a lithographic draftsman. On 21 September 1869 he married Mary Ann McClean at St James Church, Sydney. John and Mary had 10 children, including my grandmother Ruby. He retired from the Lands Department in 1919 aged 76 years.

As one would expect John and his parents and siblings exchanged letters regularly and seventeen letters sent from London over the period 1869 to 1917 have been passed down to family members and I would like to share two with you.

London April 13th 1875
My Dear Children
We was pleased to find that Frank his with you and that the Children like there little presents hoping that they will amuse them we sopose the butterflies Frank brought with him reminds you off old England I gave him my Telescope to amuse him on his voyage you will find it entertaining when you go out for a long walk together and I should like to be with you We have a Captain Boyton an American gentleman in London who has invented a drefs for swiming he swam from Dover to France last Friday in fact he dose with it just as he likes now sopose I was to borrow that drefs put Mother on my back and come and see you then I should be able to have a walk with you tell Frank he knows the spot that Jim and Harry went a fishing at the Broadwater at Enfield on Good Friday I went with them to look on the weather was beautiful and bright but very cold and All the fish they caught I think I could be put in the money box George sent you so we did not have trouble to cook them – you have wrote for a recepie for transfere ink and paper I spoke to our ink maker about it for we keep one on the premises for making letter prep ink he has given me one he calls it Lithograpic chalk ink I dont think that is right Mr Bussman is comming on Saturday Evening I shall ask him if it so you shall have both ink and paper recepes by the next mail we have sent as you wished your Regester of your birth John Russell my grandfather was 98 years of age when he died grandmother 99 she may have lived longer but fell in the fire and was so severly burnt that she died a few weeks afterwards John Russell my father was 85 when he died no 88 – my mother was 85 my Brother John Russell his 75 still living and hearty you said you sent a newspaper we have not received it I sent two last week one to you the other to Frank but no letter we was waiting one from you first I did not get the tomato seeds I like the appearance of the Drawing your mother took the letters for Miss Fincham to read she saw the Drawings and they was beautiful you dont say how your Wife and Children are let us hope they are all well give our love to them when we get Captain Boytons Drefs we shall come and see them Love from all
from Mother & Father

Firstly I was fascinated with the age details for Richard’s parents and grandparents. I knew some details about his parents, John Russell and Elizabeth Artus who married on 14 March 1801 and lived in Cheltenham. John had been baptised on 2 February 1777 at Chipping Sodbury, parents John Russell and Elizabeth Ware or Weare. But I could not establish anything from the information in the letter. Several years ago I checked the UK National Burial Index and found two Russell burials at Chipping Sodbury that appeared likely to be John and Elizabeth Russell. But how could I prove this? Then the Gloucestershire Family History Society established the Link Scheme. Last year I contacted the Link Co-ordinator, and she kindly carried out some research for me. The most exciting find was the following extract from the Gloucester Journal –

Saturday 28, 1833

Fatal Accident – A short time since, an infirm female residing at Chipping Sodbury, named Elizabeth Russell, age 90, fell against the bars of the grate and her clothes having caught fire, she was so dreadfully burnt, that she lingered for some days in great agony, when death terminated the sufferings. Her husband, who is now living, is more than 90 years old.

Although there are small differences in ages, I am satisfied that this is my Elizabeth Russell. The Burial index details are –

Elizabeth Russell died 23 December 1833, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire
John Russell died 28 September 1834, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire

Also found was John Russell and Elizabeth Ware’s marriage on 28 December 1773 at Chipping Sodbury.

Returning to the letter above, Richard suggests he and Ann should swim to Sydney by referring to a Captain Boyton. This American was in England at that time and attempted to swim the English Channel in an inflatable life preserving suit made from India rubber. Boyton left Dover on 10 April 1875 but after 50 miles the swim was abandoned because of bad weather. Then six weeks later he achieved the crossing by swimming from Boulogne to Dover.

The letter opens with the words “We was pleased to find that Frank his with you”. What does this mean? The next letter received in Sydney was written on writing paper with a black border, and although their son’s name is not mentioned it was their response on learning that Frank had died in Sydney just weeks after arriving.

London May 18th 1875
My Dear Children
Well enough you may begin your letter with sad news for you not hearing from you for so long we expected as much your letter arrived late last evening we thank your wife a thousands over for the kindnes towards that dear boy we are thankful to God that you dear John done a brothers part by him you have a mothers prayers that God have blessed her with such children as you are it has caused sad grief in the house but God’ s will be done no one can stay His hand when he says yes your mother is not well and this sad news has not improved her but she keeps up bravley give our Love our Kindest Love to Dear Mrs Cotton for that act of devotion and if you have her liknefs we should like it we want to know if he said anything of Home or had any wish or if he thought his time was come were all his troubles would be at end Dear John did you write any letters to us during the time he was ill we was 6 weeks without any we hope by the Blefsings God your Dear Wife may get over her confinement safe and that God may be pleased to give her a Boy – I have not written to any friends yet in fact I cannot write you must excuse these few lines we have lost two Boys now one 16 Thousands miles away the other in Heaven
from your Dear Mother and Father

Frank Artus Russell was born in Camden Town, London in late 1856. Poor health from phthisis (tuberculosis) caused his parents Richard and Ann to send him to his brother John in Sydney. An earlier letter said that his doctor had advised they “must send him to Australia”. Frank left London on 9 November 1874 on the ship Baron Bantyre and arrived in Sydney on 8 February 1875. He must have been very ill for on 17 March 1875 he died at John and Mary’s home in Stanley Street, East Sydney. His occupation was lithographic artist. He was only 18 years and 3 months old. John placed a funeral notice in the Sydney Morning Herald advising that Frank would be buried at Rookwood Cemetery on 19 March 1875.

At this time Mary was pregnant and the boy that was born on 6 May 1875 was baptised Frank William John, but sadly he died on 29 March 1876.

Without these letters I may not have been able to establish the details relating to John and Elizabeth Russell and I may have never realised that Frank came to Sydney in such sad circumstances.


Baptism, Birth, marriage and death entries and certificates
web site
Department of Lands, Sydney, staff records


The following is an extract from a letter I received from the NSW Department of Lands dated 9 August 1971 concerning the career of John Edmund Miller Russell.

Mr J E M Russell commenced duty in the Lands Department on 12th June 1875 as a Lithographic Draftsman with commencing salary at the rate of £250 per annum. He was employed as a Lithographic Draftsman until 1st July 1918, at which date he was placed on the relieving staff. Mr Russell was permanently appointed to the Public Service on 1st October 1877.

Details regarding increases in salary listed hereunder :-

12 June 1875 £250
1 January 1879 £300
1 January 1883 £325
1 January 1885 £345
1 January 1886 £350
1 January 1893 £335
1 July 1896 £325
1 July 1911 £350

From 1905 Mr Russell received an allowance of £10 per annum for instruction to Cadet Draftsmen. He also received 10/- per lesson per hour for teaching drawing to cadet draftsmen from the Registrar General’s Department,

In 1905 approval was given to extend his services for a period of 12 months. This practice was followed until 1911 when at the age of 68 years further approval was given for his services to be extended. Mr Russell retired on 26th August 1919, at the age of 76, his birth date being 28th April 1843. Prior to his retirement, Mr Russell was granted 12 months extended leave plus recreation leave to credit. This leave was taken from 1 July 1918 to 26 August 1919.

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