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Edward Yates & Family

A short history of Edward YATES (1777-1829) and his family

by Carol SCOTT (nee YATES)

Edward YATES (1777-1829) & Family

Edward Yates was the first of our Yates Line to arrive in Australia. The conditions of his arrival were less than promising. He arrived in Sydney as one of 199 male convicts aboard the "Sir William Bensley" on the 10th of March 1817. Shortly after his arrival he was transferred to the penal colony of Van Dieman's Land aboard the cutter "Mermaid".

Little is known of Edward Yates' life prior to transportation. Records show that he was born in Shropshire, as were all except two of his children. It is likely that he was one of the children of George and Mary Yates of Dawley Magna, Shropshire and christened on 26 January 1777. Convict records give his occupation as "blacksmith", a trade consistent with the skills he demonstrated during his life in Van Dieman's Land.

Physically Edward Yates was of above average height, for the time, five foot eight and half inches tall, of dark complexion with black hair and brown eyes. We know nothing else of Edward's appearance, with the exception of a statement by his wife Jane that he had later lost an eye in a blasting accident while preparing the water race for the Government Water Mill in Hobart.

Edward Yates was sentenced to transportation after being found guilty of forging Bills of Exchange. The trial took place during the Worchester Lent Assizes, 9th of March 1816. The sentence was death, later commuted to transportation for life.

The crimes for which Edward Yates was prosecuted took place on the 7th of July 1815 in the parish of Dudley, Worcestershire. At the time of sentencing, Edward Yates was married to Jane Dillon and the father of five children, the youngest - Adam, having been born in August of 1815 while his father was presumably in prison. One child of the marriage, Jane, had died aged about 18 months, in 1810.

In Van Diemen's Land, Edward Yates served as a convict for only 21 months receiving a conditional pardon on December 21 1818. The granting of the conditional pardon is reported in the Supplement to the Hobart Town Gazette of January 9 1819. This issue of the Gazette records that he was emancipated in reward for his "intelligence and industry" when employed under the Acting Engineer and Inspector of Public Works, in construction of the government corn mill, water course, etc.

In December of 1818 Edward Yates was appointed superintendent of the Government Mill, at a salary of fifty pounds per annum. The Government Corn-Mill was constructed at the end of the Government garden and commenced grinding on Thursday the 28th of May 1818. The Hobart Town Gazette refers to this event and describes Edward Yates as "a Crown Servant possessing considerable talents as an engineer".

The fate of his family must never have been far from Edward Yates mind. Together with several others, Edward Yates petitioned the Lt-Governor in 1817 to have their families sent out to them. In each case it was stated that the convicts in question had the means of supporting their families. ie. they would not be a financial drain on the colony. This request was forwarded to Governor Macquarie in July of 1817, but nothing further was heard. Application was again made in January 1819 and forwarded by Lt.Governor Sorrell to Colonial Secretary Campbell. This last request was successful and the wife and children of Edward Yates arrived in Sydney aboard the "Morley" on the 30th of September 1820. The "Morley" was a convict ship, and on this trip carried free settlers in addition to its regular cargo of 121 female convicts.

In 1817 a notice appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette advising that the British Ministry had agreed that the Home Government would meet the expense of sending out the wives and children of suitable convicts. Sorrell firmly believed that the hope and expectation of family reunion was a humane and effective mechanism for changing the behaviour of the convict population. The reunion scheme operated for a period of twenty-five years, during which time approximately 297 wives and 643 children were reunited with their husband's and father's as free settlers in a colonial culture dominated by the penal system. Not all petitions for reunion were successful however and quite frequently the family involved declined to abandon life in England for a less certain future in the new colonies.

Edward Yates continued as Superintendent of the Government Mill for a period of 2 years and 9 months, his salary continuing at fifty pound per annum and a grant of double rations from the Government Store. During this time he built a two-storey house for himself in Elizabeth Street, Hobart at an expense of 500 pound.

Once independent of his role as Government Miller, Edward Yates clearly sensed the value of investing his skills in the private sector and on September 20, 1820, he was able to announce the opening of a new, water-driven, flourmill in Liverpool Street Hobart, owned and operated in partnership with James Tedder. The millstones for this commercial venture were from a local quarry and were the first recorded use of non-imported millstones in the colony of Van Diemen's Land.

The Hobart Town of the early 1820s has been described in the following terms:

" .....cottages competed for river frontage with the watermills, which were squat structures of rough stone served by leat and storage pond. Each had a white waterfall from its mill wheel into the muddied creek waters below" (i).

NOTE (i) "Hobart Town"; Peter Bolger, Australian National University Press 1973, page 17.

In 1820, only ten water mills existed in the entire colony of Van Diemen's land. In the following decade a further 27 mills were built. Two of the mills discharging into the Hobart rivulet had been built by Edward Yates.

The Yates-Tedder partnership was to last less than a year. In May of 1821, the business relationship was publicly dissolved and James Tedder bought Edward Yates share of the Liverpool Street venture. Later in 1821 Edward Yates and his family moved to the Launceston area of Van Diemen's Land and purchased a small grant of land at a cost of ninety pounds. On this land was erected a watermill costing sixteen hundred pound. The first watermill in the Launceston area, and indeed the first in the northern half of the island, it commenced grinding in 1822 and ground wheat for the Government for around five years.

The Government was to make a further grant of 60 acres, 20 acres of which Edward Yates cleared and cultivated. Two further farms were purchased on the banks of the North Esk River. Early survey maps of the area show the Yates grant to be on the North side of the North Esk River near what is now known as St. Leonards. Edward Yates built three bridges across the North Esk river, two of which were swept away by floodwaters. In winter "Yates Bridge" was the only safe passage between farms on the eastern side of the river and the town of Launceston.

On September 9th, 1823, a further child was born to Edward and Jane Yates, a daughter - Matilda, who was baptised on September 9th 1825 at St. Johns Church of England, Launceston.

The Journals of the Land Commissioners for Van Diemen's Land record a visit to Yates Mill on August 14th 1826 and observed that "Yates had thrown a bridge across the river, however he does not get much business to his mill".

In January of 1828 Edward Yates made application for a further grant of Government land. In this case his application was not successful due to a dispute with James Brumby concerning ownership of Yates Mill. James Brumby was a very early, and well respected, settler and he claimed that he had paid Edward Yates to erect the mill on land previously purchased from him. Brumby further claimed that he had supported Yates and his family with provisions throughout the period of building and had directly incurred the cost of the two bridges across the North Esk River.

According to James Brumby, the agreement was that Edward Yates would work the flour mill and receive one half share of the profits and that one half share of the Mill would be made over to him., once he had paid half the building expenses. The records of these transactions were left with Mr. William Field of Launceston, whom Brumby accused of being in league with Edward Yates in an effort to defraud him.

James Brumby further claimed that Edward Yates forcibly took possession of the Mill and then refused to yield it to him. Legal proceedings were undertaken but it has not been possible to determine what course these proceedings took or indeed the nature of any settlement reached. However, "Yates Mill" remained the home and property of members of the Yates family until the early 1840's.

The private and public communication which surrounds the dispute concerning ownership of Yates Mill provides a revealing insight into the prevailing social and economic conditions of northern Tasmania during the early years of settlement. In particular, the records of the Land Commissioners show that in the late 1820s they recognised the ex-convict squatters as a threat to the orderly development of the region. William Field was described as a "notorious rogue", who with others was exercising power in a manner which prevented smaller immigrant settlers from establishing themselves. Further Field, and others with convict origins, appeared to share a strong sense of community which often offended the sensibilities of those whose power derived from either government position or inherited personal wealth.

Within this extended northern community of ex-convicts, Edward Yates, his family, & friends, clearly enjoyed a sense of belonging. The animosity between William Field and James Brumby may however have its origins as far back as the time they both spent on Norfolk Island - one as a convict and the other as a free settler. Both Field and Brumby were relocated from Norfolk Island to participate in the established of Port Dalrymple, later to become the city of Launceston.

Edward Yates died suddenly on the 7th of September 1829, leaving his wife a widow with five children to support. He was buried in Launceston on September 11th 1829.

Jane Yates memorialised the Government in 1829, seeking a further grant of land in her own name. It is the contents of this memorial, or submission, which gives us the first of only two first-person records of the fortunes of the Yates family in Tasmania. In April of 1831, Jane Yates remarried - however it is believed that she continued to live at the mill with her new husband, George Willet until her death in 1833, aged 56 years.

The October 7, 1836 edition of the "Hobart Town Gazette" contains a three-column advertisement offering for sale, Yates Mill and 100 acres. It is possible that this was a mortgagee sale, since the advertisement appears in the name of William Field. Another explanation is that he, as a long time friend of the family, is acting on their behalf as an agent.

Yates Mill - North Esk River
Apply W.Field, Sale

Comprising the mill and good substantial
W.B. house, all necessary outbuildings

100 acres

Yates Mill was also for sale in 1838, approximately 15 months after being offered by William Field. On January 20, 1838, the following advertisement appears in the "Cornwall Chronicle".

Yates Mill,
Paterson's Plains
400 acres

It is possible that this second sale (ii) was on behalf of a mortgagee and was initiated by the executors of William Field's estate. The outcome of this offer for sale is not known, however it is thought that the Mill was rented by Mr. Guillan, in 1846, who subsequently pulled down the old mill and built the Albion Mill in its place.

NOTE (ii) "The Story of Port Dalrymple - Life and Work in Northern Tasmania", Llwelyn Slingsby Bethell, p 130.

The closing years of the operation of Yates Mill on the North Esk River are described in the autobiography of Thomas Wilkes Monds, one of the founders of the Launceston firm Monds and Afleck. This is the second of the first-person records describing the fortunes of the Yates family and includes a description of the final fate of Yates Mill on the North Esk. Monds recollections, written in old age, are as follows :

".....I may mention here that the old North Esk mill was built by a man named Yates, who had been a flour miller in the old country and was, I believe the first flour mill in the north of Tasmania. In those days mills had to be built where water power could be obtained to drive them and consequently in out-of-the-way places, and sometimes in fact generally, in places most inconvenient to cart the grain to and fro, for in the early days of the colony steam engines could not be obtained and, failing water power, windmills had to be used, which were always very unreliable.

Adam Yates(iii) , who built and owned the North Esk mill, worked it himself for many years - probably thirty years or more. He reared a large family there of fine boys and handsome girls, and when he died the mill passed into the hands of a gentleman called Inall, who had married the eldest daughter of Mr. Yates. She was called the Maid of the Mill, and a fine handsome woman she was. Mr Inall, however, being a draper by trade, did not understand the milling business, so the mill, being a very primitive structure at the best, soon fell into disrepair. The property being mortgaged, the mortgagee foreclosed and the property passed away from the Yates family. The new owner then arranged with Mr. Guillan to let the latter have the property on a lease for twenty-one years on the condition that he built a new mill; hence the reason for our going there.

Mr Inall had of course to remove from the old mill and homestead, but the family remained in the old home for a time, and when the children saw us pulling down the old mill, they cried as if their hearts would break. They had been used to see the splash of the merry water-wheel and hear the beating of the millstones from their infancy, and felt it hard to leave the old home, but such is life, they had to go; and we made a new home and a new mill, which we christened the Albion Mills.

Mrs Inall was a splendid specimen of a good wife and mother, kind-hearted and hospitable; and being but a boy myself, I loved her as my mother, for during the short time she remained in the old home she showed me much kindness."

NOTE (iii) Records often confuse Adam and Edward Yates, adding considerable weight to conjecture that Adam Yates was strongly linked for a time with the operation of Yates Mill. Adam Yates and family travelled to the Port Phillip district in mid 1840s, first settling in Geelong and later establishing themselves in Ballarat and district.

So ends the story of Yates Mill, its demolition brings to a close the first chapter of the story of our Yates line in Australia. It is a chapter closely linked to the development of industry in Van Diemen's Land and the journey from penal settlement to colony.

No trace remains of Yates Mill on the North Esk. The Yates Tedder-Mill and the prolific milling establishments which edged the Hobart Rivulet have disappeared leaving virtually no evidence of their existence. The water wheels, mill machinery and the mill structures themselves fell victim to early urban expansion.

The ultimate irony is that while the physical evidence for the endeavours of the Yates family, and other early millers, have been lost to history, James Brumby's name lives on as part of Australian folklore. We no longer recall that William Field's wild cattle were known as "W.F's" - a reference to their distinctive brand, but Brumby's wild horses which so freely roamed the northern regions of Tasmania became the "brumby" and an Australian icon.