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Ellen Woolliscroft 1843-1929 of Leek, Staffordshire and Australia

Ellen Woolliscroft 1843-1929

of Leek, Staffordshire and Australia

For sometime Ellen’s ancestry has been a bit of a mystery to me. I knew she married twice in Australia and also had a son Henry Benjamin Woolliscroft in 1876. Recently I have found her obituary which states she was from Leek in Staffordshire and death certificate states she was the daughter of George and Mary Woolliscroft. Ellen maintained contact with her family in England whilst she was in Australia.

Ellen was the third daughter of George and Mary (nee Smith) Woolliscroft born in 1843 at Leek, Staffordshire. Her father was a grocer, tea dealer and corn merchant.  She was living with her parents in Alton, Staffordshire in 1851 and Barford Bridge, Cheddleton, Staffordshire in 1861. Her father George got into some financial difficulties while Ellen was growing up and spent time in debtors prison at Stafford, Staffordshire. Things must have been difficult for the family. George died in 1868. Her mother moved to Sandbach, Cheshire where she died in 1886.

Ellen had left home by 1871 and was working as a waitress for the Condiff family who were fine wine merchants in South Road, Waterloo, Great Crosby, Lancashire. At this time adverts were appearing in  English newspapers encouraging individuals to emigrate to Queensland as farm labourers and domestic servants. They were offered a ‘better life’ and a free passage. By 1875 Ellen had decided to take up employment in Queensland, Australia.

The Winefred

Ellen arrived in Brisbane, Queensland aboard the 'Winefred' on the 22 April 1875. She secured employment at the Clifton Station near Allora in the Darling Downs region of Queensland. The property was  owned by William Butler Tooth who was an absentee landlord. Today, Clifton is a small town 40 km south of Toowoomba.
The Winefred
Source:John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Clifton Station, Queensland 1875

Ellen had left Clifton by February 1876 and sued Tooth for unpaid wages under the 'Master & Servants Act'. She was awarded £22 but Tooth challenged the verdict and secured a rule nisi against the magistrates for exceeding their jurisdiction. [Noeline V. Hall, 'Tooth, William Butler (1823–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,]

Clifton Station in 1875                  

The case was reported in The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser paper on the 23 Feb 1876 at Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia.  I don't know if Ellen ever received her wages but Tooth died in June that year with significant debts. 

Things could not have been easy for Ellen on her own in a strange country. I haven't been able to find out why Ellen left her employment but she was delivered of a son, Henry Benjamin Woolliscroft in October 1876. So I think it very likely she had met someone. However, on the 6 Jul 1879 she arrived in Sydney, New South Wales aboard the steamship ‘Edgmont’ with her son. On the ships manifest Henry was called Herbert.  

Two years later Ellen married her first husband Charles Brachbeel at Tweed River, NSW. I have not found any records other than his marriage for Charles. Ellen was living in German Creek in 1886 and using the surname Woolliscroft when she placed an advert in the newspaper trying to contact her cousin George Boreham. However, this could have been so George Boreham would realise who she was because of the distinctive surname. Her surname was given as Brachbeel when she married James Brawn.

Ellen married for a second time in 1889 at Lismore, NSW to James Samuel Brawn. James was a sugar cane farmer at German Creek (Empire Vale), NSW, Australia. At the time of his marriage to Ellen he was a widower with three young sons James Andrew (1881), Robert George (1882) and Richard Henry (1884). James was from Staffordshire and had arrived in Australia in 1883. His first wife Isabel Mary Robertson set sail from London on the 8 May 1884 with her three sons, the youngest only a few weeks old aboard the RMS Assam (P&O Line). Unfortunately Isabel passed away before the ship reached Columbo. The children must have been cared for by the other passengers as they arrived safe and sound in Australia and joined their father. 

James continued to farm at German Creek until 1925 when he retired and he moved to Cherry Street, Ballina with Ellen. Ellen died on the 9 Feb 1929 at her home in Ballina. 

East Ballina Cemetry

Her funeral took place two days later and she was buried in East Ballina Cemetery. Her son Harry erected a headstone in her memory. After Ellen’s death 1929 James moved to Kootingal to live with his son James Andrew, a school teacher. James passed away in 1938.

East Ballina Cemetery


The death of the late Mrs. Ellen Brawn, of Ballina, at the age of 88 years, removes a very old and highly respected resident of the Richmond's port. A native of Staffordshire, Mrs Brawn came to N.S.W. about 60 years ago, and for 35 years resided with her husband at Empire Vale. On retirement from farm life the old couple took up their residence in Ballina, where Mrs. Brawn was well-known for her kindness of heart and her ever ready willingness to assist any one in distress. Prior to the  funeral a religious service was conducted in the  Church of England by the Rev. E. G. Huntley, who also conducted the funeral service at the graveside. The remains were interred in the Church of England portion of the East Ballina cemetery. The funeral cortege was very large and representative and many beautiful wreaths covered the coffin, expressive of respect and affectionate remembrance. Mrs. Brawn is survived by.: a husband and family of four sons — Andrew, Kootingal (Tamworth), Robert (Ballina), Richard (Tintenbar), Harry (Lismore). 

OBITUARY. (1929, February 12). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from

I knew that Ellen had had a son Henry Woolliscroft in 1876 but I had not found another reference to him other than ‘Herbert’ who travelled to Sydney with her in 1879. Initially I had thought he had died as a child and the death had not been registered. However, her obituary refers to her son ‘Harry’ who lived in Lismore, NSW, Australia. I decided to take another look at the records and found the death of a Henry Arthur Brawn in Lismore in 1932, the son of James and Ellen. Ellen married James in 1889 when she was 46 so I thought  although not impossible it was unlikely that they had a child. I decided to have another look at the Newspapers and found the obituary of Henry Arthur Brawn. This gave Henry’s year of birth as 1876 so I had found Henry Benjamin Woolliscroft. It looks as if Henry adopted his step fathers name when his mother married James Brawn in 1889.  At present I think it unlikely James was Henry’s biological father. The records from England show him as living in Staffordshire on the census returns between 1851 and 1881. The evidence suggests he didn’t arrive in Australia until the later part of 1883 or early 1884. More

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