The Mystery of William Gregory

The Mystery of William Gregory

Jan Gregory

Self published by Jan and Phil Gregory in 2007.


This was a pre-publication edition of a chapter in the forthcoming book on the Gregory family history.

The story of the family of William Gregory and Sarah Nicholson begins with their marriage in Sydney in 1838. The family background of Sarah Nicholson and the way in which she came to Australia has been established, but a mystery surrounds the arrival in Australia of William Gregory. While Egremont parish records give a clear picture of the family background of Sarah Nicholson, the abundance of William Gregorys in Chesterfield records makes the genealogy of the William Gregory in question very problematical.

The family of Sarah Nicholson lived in the Egremont, St Bees and Whitehaven area of the Cumbria coast of England. Her maternal grandparents, John Tidyman and Mary Worrel were married at St Bees on 3 June 1784 and her paternal grandparents, Dennis Nicholson and Sarah Bowman were married at Whitehaven on 10 July 1774.

Sarah was the eldest child of Dennis Nicholson and Mary Tidyman who had been married at Egremont on 13 November 1811. Sarah was born on 3rd November 1812. There were six other children; Agnes [b. 22 Jan 1815], John [b. 11 May 1817], Elenor [b. 3 Oct 1819], Mary [b. 20 Jan 1822], Elizabeth [b. 28 March 1824] and James [b. 23 July 1826]. All the children were born in Egremont. During this period, Egremont was a market town. Pigot's Cumberland Directory for 1834 highlighted the agricultural nature of the area with its numerous corn and flax mills. It also stated that "the principal articles of manufacture at present are checks and linen cloth; the tanning and dressing of leather to a limited extent is carried on in the parish wherein are also mines of iron-stone and quarries of red freestone and limestone". The Nicholsons appear to be associated with the quarrying activities as Sarah's father, Dennis Nicholson, is listed as a mason on his marriage registration of 1811 and on the registers for his children's' baptisms. A John Nicholson is listed in the 1829 Parson & White directory of Cumberland as a quarry proprietor of Palla Flat. What relation hewas to Dennis has not been established. Dennis Nicholson was also the publican of the Swan Inn, Egremont, from at least 1819. His death notice which appeared in the local newspaper on 7 September 1830 stated; "Sunday 5th instant at Egremont Mr Dennis Nicholson stonemason and publican in the 43rd year of his age". [It was in fact his 42nd year.] The visitor to Egremont attempting to find either the Swan public house or Swan Lane will be disappointed as the site is now occupiedby a Greggs cake shop which fronts the main street of Egremont.

Sarah Nicholson came to New South Wales under the Government Assisted Migrant Immigration Scheme. Under this scheme, established in 1835, residents of New South Wales could sponsor migrants from Britain. They were interviewed on arrival and if deemed to be of use tothe colony, most of the sponsor's costs were refunded by the colonial government. Sarah arrived in Sydney on the Andromache on 31 October 1837, aged 25.

According to the immigration papers she was sponsored by Messrs William Walker and Company and came to the colony under the protection of Rev Sowerby. She was certified as being of "unblemished character" by the rector of Egremont parish, Rev William Henry Leech. Her occupation was given as "house service generally". On examination by the Immigration Board on 8th November 1837, she was deemed to be "in very good health and likely to be useful". [Assisted Immigrants Inwards to Sydney 1828-1842 Reel 1286 Archives Authority of NSW]

An element of mystery surrounds the description of Sarah Nicholson as a "widow" on the St Philip's marriage register. An examination of the Egremont parish registers found no record of a previous marriage. No mention of a previous marriage is made on her death certificate. In the earlier colonial period, there was a practice of unmarried women claiming to be married to discourage the attention of amorous sailors on the voyage to New South Wales. While it may have been a useful aid to chastity at sea, claiming to be married was an inconvenience when the lady found someone she wanted to marry in the colony. It could be the case that Sarah Nicholson needed to become a "widow" through the timely death of her fictitious husband in order to marry William Gregory. It may be significant that on her immigration papers under the Government Assisted Migrant Immigration Scheme, her status was originally given as married and then was amended to unmarried. On the other hand the designation of "widow" on the marriage register could be the clerical error of a stressed colonial clergyman.

The most notable thing about William Gregory's place of origin, Chesterfield, is the twisted leaning spire on All Saints church. This is the church where William Gregory was baptised on 2nd March 1806. It was also an important market town for thearea. The market was dominated by trade in wheat and oats supplied to the Peak district and to Sheffield. Despite the fact that the Chesterfield Canal, opened in 1777, had facilitated the wheat and oats trade, it had done little to stimulate the development of manufacturing in Chesterfield. The town did not see the spectacular growth of nearby towns, such as Sheffield or Manchester, in the early 19th century. In the early 1830s a municipal report described the town as "in a depressed state, and the inhabitants generally are supposed to be far from wealthy: there are nearly 100 uninhabited houses in [the town]. [A History of Chesterfield Vol 3 J.M. Bestall Chesterfield 1978 p.41] As William Gregory was a carpenter and joiner, it would seem that there was little demand for his trade in Chesterfield. That he should be found in boom-town Manchester in 1828 is hardly surprising. On William's death certificate, his father's occupation was given as weaver.If this were the case, it is again possible that the whole family had moved to Manchester in the 1820s.

The Bishop's Transcripts for Chesterfield show that William Gregory was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, on 29 January 1806. His parents were William and Elizabeth Gregory. There are two possible marriages of his parents in Chesterfield. A William Gregory married Elizabeth Webster on 3rd June 1800 and a William Gregory married Elizabeth Hancock on 21 February 1804. To check the possibility that the same William Gregory was the groom in both marriages, the parish registers were searched for the death of an Elizabeth Gregory. No death was found. There is no further means of establishing which marriage is that of the parents of William [born 1806]. Nor is it possible to identify which of the baptisms of William Gregorys in the 1770s is that of his father. The interesting question and mystery about William Gregory is how did he get to New South Wales and was he a convict?

In tracing one's ancestors in Australia, one of the essential things to do is to check the colonial shipping lists. No record has been found of William Gregory arriving as a free settler or assisted immigrant. The next step is to check the convictlists. There are five William Gregorys who appear in the convict records between 1829 and 1839. They may be eliminated from the enquiry because their ages and backgrounds do not fit the known facts of the William Gregory in question. There is, however, the interesting case of a convict named William Greaves who is noted as "alias William Gregory".

The convict shipping record gives the following information about the person known as "William Greaves alias William Gregory". He arrived in New South Wales on 18th December 1833 on board the Lloyds. He had been convicted of house breaking at theDerby Assizes on 20th March 1833 and sentenced to 7 years transportation.

He had stolen items including a silver tankard, a silver snuff box and a telescope from Tupton Hall near Chesterfield. He was arrested along with his accomplice, Joseph Bedford, when he attempted to pawn the tankard at a pawn shop in Sheffield. His age was given as 28 and he was a joiner and carpenter from Derbyshire. On the convict shipping register he was described as 5 feet 5 inches tall, of ruddy complexion, with brown hair and brown eyes and with two moles on the right side of his neck and four small moles on his left arm. He was also described as bow legged. Was this the person who married Sarah Nicholson in Sydney in 1838?

This person again appears in the convict records in 1840 and 1855. A Certificate of Freedom dated 9th April 1840 was granted to "William Greaves alias Gregory" on the expiry of the 7 years sentence. It is the same person, as the physical description is the same. This certificate specifies Chesterfield as the native place of the person concerned. This William Greaves was tried under the name William Gregory and convicted of a further offence at the Maitland Quarter Sessions on 7th January 1852. He received a 7 year sentence. In 1855 he was granted a Ticket of Leave which provided provisional freedom on condition that he remained in the district of Cassilis [Hunter River region]. Since William Gregory and Sarah were living in the Maitland district in the 1850s the possibility that William Gregory was William Greaves or that William Greaves was William Gregory must be considered. The period in which this William Greaves/Gregory was in prison coincides with a gapin children being born to Sarah Gregory.

The document which would prove the case would be the convict permission to marry certificate. As William Greaves was still a convict in 1838 he would have required permission to marry. There is a certificate for a William Greaves but it is not thesame person. This William Greaves arrived in the colony on 26 October 1834 on board the Henry Tanner. He was given permission to marry at East Maitland in 1841. Since there is no record of a William Greaves/Gregory being granted permission to marry in 1838 some doubt must be raised identifying William Gregory with the convict William Greaves.

Several other pieces of evidence are worth noting in this connection. According to the convict register, William Greaves was married with two male children. The International Genealogical Index [IGI] lists marriages of several William Greaves of an appropriate age, including one in Chesterfield in 1824.

The St Philip's [Sydney] marriage register states that William Gregory was a widower at the time of his marriage to Sarah Nicholson. His death certificate notes a prior marriage to Elizabeth Goodwin in Manchester. No children are recorded for this marriage. The informant for the death certificate was William's son, William, who would have had nothing to go on but "oral history". Manchester Cathedral records show the marriage of William Gregory, whose occupation is given as "joiner", and Ann Goodwin on 28th March 1828. Both were described as being "of this parish", that is, residents of Manchester.

Due to little indexing of Manchester death registers, no record has been found relating to the death of an Ann Gregory. A Manchester connection also arises in the story of William Greaves. When he was trying to obtain money for one of the stolen items, he is reported to have said that he got the silver tankard from his mother who lived in Water Street, Manchester. This may have increased the suspicions of the pawn broker, as Water Street was in an area of Manchester described as "ruinousand filthy" and occupied by "people whose occupations are thieving and prostitution".[Engels p. 94]


This story has been edited and now appears as the first Chaper in the source book titled:

The Newcastle Connection: A Gregory Family History. Source No. 310.

Given names Surname Sosa Birth Place Death Age Place Last change
October 30, 1812
210 Egremont, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
6 February 11, 1880
142 67 Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
November 14, 1761
261 St. Bees, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
1 before 1881 Never
January 20, 1760
262 Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
1 before 1880 Never
Given names Surname Age Given names Surname Age Marriage Place Last change
21 Sarah BOWMAN
22 248 Whitehaven, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
1 Never
22 Mary WORREL
24 238 St. Bees, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
1 Never
22 211 Egremont, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
8 Never
Media objects
Media Title Individuals Families Sources Last change
Title Individuals Families Media objects Sources Last change
Shared places
Shared place Type Place Latitude Longitude Individuals Families