William Henry Barnett

William Henry Barnett

William Henry Barnett was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1831, the son of Andrew Barnett, a British soldier and his wife Anne Sullivan, a Halifax local. While William was still quite young, his father's regiment returned to England in 1841 where his father was medically discharged from the army and given an ex-gratia payment. The records do not show if he was sick or injured.

With no family support in England and a husband about to be discharged, his wife Anne Barnett, nee Sullivan, chose to stay in British North America, now known as Canada, rather than following her husband to England. William stayed with his mother and was unlikely to see his father ever again.

According to family verbal history, the Sullivans moved from Halifax to Hudson Bay where they took up whaling in conjunction with a local indigenous tribe. Hudson Bay did not mean the geographical Hudson Bay but the lands managed by the Hudson Bay Company, with whaling from ports in what is now known as Washington State USA.

From the age of ten, William grew up learning the boating and whaling trade from his uncles, the Sullivans, but as he progressed into later teens, it was clear that his uncles would pass on the business to their own sons. This was only natural but meant that William had to find a job and future for himself.

He had seafaring skills but little formal education because that part of America was still disputed territory without the usual educational or other institutions. With the discovery of gold in California not very far away and no clear future, eighteen-year-old William left for San Francisco and became a '49er'.

Nothing is known about his time in San Francisco until his name appears on the crew list of the British Merchant Ship, Messenger, which left San Francisco for Callao, Peru on 15 January 1854. It is not known how long he stayed in Callao, but eventually he continued his voyage to Liverpool, England.

After two weeks in Liverpool he secured a crew position on a new ship, Europa, which he joined on 2 January 1855. The ship had a cargo of 336 migrants, all bound for Adelaide, where already several Barnetts lived in and around Port Adelaide, which could have been relatives. If William knew about that it could explain why he went to Adelaide. It could also have been a case of any job, any ship, anywhere.

The Europa arrived at Port Adelaide on 12 May 1855, and according to the local papers her appearance spoke well for the cleanliness of the emigrants, who seemed to be fine healthy people. During the voyage seven babies were born.

However, all was not what it appeared to be as the journey had been anything but routine. The South Australian Register of 14 May 1855, included a long article titled 'Serious Mutiny at Sea'. A very dramatic description, possibly over-dramatized by Captain William Ridley, who needed to protect his reputation. The leaders of the mutiny had been off-loaded at Cape Town, South Africa, resulting in a promotion for 24-year-old William Henry Barnett to acting Bosun.

Nevertheless, troubles continued even after arrival in Port Adelaide. The Captain asked the police to prosecute some of the passengers for siding with the mutineers. After hearing the passengers' side of the story, they declined and instead send the Captain a bill for their time investigating.

The crew, now faced with a very disappointed Captain, deserted including William Barnett who jumped ship on 3 June 1855. A little later the Register of 18 June reported on a new mode of desertion which had apparently been used.

'Another New Mode of Desertion. Yesterday morning, Sunday, June 17, Mr. Thomas, the cox swain of the pilot boat, discovered a large cask on the beach, to the north of the Semaphore, and on examination found it to be a wash-deck tub, not far from which were two ballast shovels, which appear to have been used as paddles, and a rug, supposed to have been employed as a sail.

A tin pot found within the cold and capacious tub betokened a leaky vessel; but it was nevertheless evident that two men had accomplished a short voyage in it. Subsequent to the discovery, Captain Ridley, of the Europa, has seen and identified the tub and the shovels as his property, and he will doubtless be able to name, at least, those who have figured in this new 'Tale of a Tub'.

It took 9 months before the Europa found enough crew to sail back to England. Once again there was trouble for the Captain. This time the ship was wrecked on the Western Scilly Isles close to England. The ship's owners were infuriated that their new ship had been idle for a year, 9 months at anchor in Port Adelaide and then 3 months to sail back and wrecked after only one journey.

With his reputation in ruins the Captain went to the British Registry of Merchant Seamen and had all the crew records, including those of William Barnett, marked as 'do not employ again'.

Meanwhile most of the deserters were sent to gaol for one month or evaded police by escaping to the Victorian gold fields. William Barnett was one of the latter and joined a group of people travelling overland to the goldfields. The Victorian goldfields had attracted thousands of South Australians, and many deserted seamen, since gold had been discovered there in 1851.

Port Adelaide Court House.

It was also about half a year after the Eureka uprisings with the resultant changes that made for a fairer deal for the ordinary people to participate in gold mining. William took out a miner's right and tried to find his El Dorado, just like in San Francisco a few years earlier.

He had no more luck than in California or San Francisco. He did however find work unloading ships in Melbourne and lived in one of Melbourne's rough areas, Emerald Hill, now South Melbourne. Emerald Hill was named after the large number of Irish migrants who lived there. His North American accent and Irish heritage would have mixed well with the locals.

At the same time, also heading for Port Adelaide was the ship Northern Star in 1855, with her cargo of assisted migrants, including 95 single Irish females escaping the potato famine. Included in this number were two ladies, Mary-Anne Murphy and Eliza Fizjames Fitzgerald, both 23 and from Dublin. Both were among the 35 migrants who were literate. While their paths most likely had crossed during the 4-month journey, little did they know, or even expect, that 120 years later two of their descendants would be joined in marriage in Whyalla.

Faced with large numbers of assisted migrants who stayed at the Government Depot, but not enough jobs, the South Australian government initiated an inquiry into 'Excessive Irish Single Females'. This inquiry noted for both ladies 'no relatives on board, no relatives in Australia.' To reduce the cost of the Depot, it offered the excessive single Irish females a free passage to any other Australian colony. Mary Murphy was one of them who took up the offer and sailed for Melbourne.

Eliza Fitzgerald on the other hand, found a husband and that way secured a roof over her head. She married Antonio Curin Angelinawich, another ship deserter. Antonio's desertion was not pursued by the police because his ship was not British. His ship was owned by Austrian Lloyd, the merchant shipping line of the Hapsburg Empire, who were bringing German migrants to Adelaide.

The name Angelinawich was often written as Angelinawitch, Angelenowitch, Angelinnovitch, Angelindwitch, Angelinavitch or just Angelin and has featured regularly in the history of South Australian coastal shipping. As late as 1900 an Angelinawich was listed as Master Mariner and living at Ship Street, Port Adelaide where Mrs Susan Angelinawich had a general store. In 1903 a Peter Angelinawich was living at Dale Street and a J Angelinawich at Leadenhall Street.

Antonio's first name was sometimes given as Antoney whereas his second was occasionally written as Hureen, or Turin. Some of these mix-ups could have been caused by the fact that he was illiterate or just sloppy writing by officials.

Antonio and Eliza were married and they had a daughter, Hannah Gerene on 10 October 1858 at Port Adelaide. She only lived for seven days. A second daughter, Mandelna Hurin was born on 3 February 1860 followed by daughter number three, Antonietta on 11 November 1862. They were followed by three sons, Antoney Tureen on 13 April 1866 and Robert on 28 October 1869. Their third son Peter was born on 4 December 1872 when they were living in Dale Street, Port Adelaide.

In August 1866, when he was 30, Antonio applied for, and was granted, the Certificate of Oath of Allegiance after a Justice of the Peace had stated that to the best of his belief and knowledge Antonio, who was at that time listed as a merchant mariner, was 'a person of good repute'. Eliza died on 7 July 1881, aged only 44 while Antonio died on 28 July 1915 at the age of 82.

Mary Anne Murphy had far different experiences. Upon arrival in Melbourne, she needed help to unload her possessions and that was willingly provided by William Henry Barnett who worked at the wharfs. He liked what he saw and made some comments that were not to the liking of Mary and had his face slapped for his efforts. Somehow their relationship improved and on 7 January 1860 they were married at St Francis' church in Melbourne.

By December of the same year, a son, William Henry junior, was born and their address had changed from Emerald Hill to Sandridge, known today as Port Melbourne where wharf labourers lived after shipping moved from the Yarra river to the Port Melbourne pier.

A daughter, Mary Elizabeth was born in 1862 but died after 5 months. Shortly after, the family decided to move back to South Australia. They settled at Kadina where there was plenty of work after the opening up of the Wallaroo and Moonta copper mines. It seems that he was known and respected as on 15 May 1866 William was appointed foreman of a jury which was investigating the death of William Martin at the Wallaroo Mines.

In 1864 William Henry and Mary Anne had another daughter, Marion Caroline. She would marry Patrick D'Orsey, a French Canadian, labourer of Port Augusta on 10 September 1882. Patrick died in 1895 at the Boolooroo Goldfield while working there, possibly at the same time as his father-in-law. William and Mary had their third child in 1872 and he was named Matthew Robert.

William may have been liked and respected but it appears that he had various occupations and managed to accumulate a number of debts but talked creditors into deferring repayments. In an effort to distance himself from all the financial problems he eventually moved to Adelaide where he found work as a barman.

Before long, he decided that the publican was overcharging his customers and gave away free beers. Obviously, the publican, Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe, was not too pleased and on 2 January 1869 charged him with stealing 5 gallons of ale while a servant. After a short trial William was acquitted of this charge but his reputation was lost and no publican would hire him.

After spending some time in hospital, from 30 July until 21 August 1869, and without a job or income, plus the fear of his old creditors catching up with him, William tried to restart his career as a merchant seaman. No luck here either - only more trouble.

Port Adelaide 1870 (SLSA)

So much trouble in fact that in 1871 he was thrown off the ship Gulnare in Darwin and had to pay his own passage home on another ship. In an effort to recoup some of his money he used the courts to claim more than 18 pounds for lost wages from the owners of the Gulnare but the ship's Captain, Samuel Sweet, told the court that William had been missing for 3 months, and half of his wages had been paid to his wife in Port Adelaide even though he was missing. In fact, only 7 pounds had been paid to her.

Gulnare at Southport 1871 (SLSA)

During the court case the captain stated that he would not allow William Barnett back on the ship and if they lost the case, which he did, it was worth the cost just to get rid of him. The court found in William's favour on account of Darwin not being an official port, hence the shipping company should have got him back to Adelaide. Darwin became an official port soon after so in effect William won on a technicality.

Back in Adelaide he found that there was plenty of work. Loading and unloading ships could sometimes take many weeks and sailors often stayed on land during that time, sometimes staying at boarding houses or sleeping rough. In July 1872 William obtained a licence to run a boarding house in Nile Street, Port Adelaide. Maybe this time it would provide a steady job and income.

It would be his wife, pregnant at that time, who had to do most of the work such as cooking, washing and cleaning. That same year son Robert Mathew, was born. He was Christened in the Roman Catholic church in Port Adelaide in the same week as the son of Antonio and Eliza Angelinawich.

In 1875, William Henry Barnett's debt problems, which had gone from bad to worse, finally caught up with him. Robert Harry Allen of Port Adelaide served him with an Insolvency notice for the sum of 17 pounds, 14 shillings and 10 pence. At the same time, he also owed John Cherry 200 pounds. At the subsequent court case William blamed a bout of sickness in the family and people leaving his boarding house without paying, for his problems.

The court appointed accountant stated that total liabilities amounted to well over 200 pounds whereas his assets were nil. He also found it impossible to determine if the Boarding House business was profitable and if William had potential to trade out of his debt. The main reason for this being that William had never kept any accounts at all. If any accounting was done it would have been by his wife. Some of his debts went back as far as 1868, including amounts owed to J Parker, butcher of Port Adelaide and WH Beaglehole of North Adelaide for timber.

The outcome of the Insolvency trial was a declaration that William had no hope of ever repaying the debts and they were cancelled by the courts. They included debts from his time in Kadina where creditors had heard about his insolvency adding their claims to the case against William. He had to sign every page of the accountant's report, which he did in a very clear hand. All previous documents, had been signed with his mark, a cross!

In September 1876 William Henry was again before the courts. This time for 'aiding, abetting and committing an assault'. He was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months hard labour but only served 8 months before being released on 5 June 1877. The goal records describe him as 5 foot, 11 inches tall, aquiline nose, round face, heavy (portly) build with an anchor tattoo on his left breast.

Port Adelaide 1878 (SLSA)

The newspaper reports of the day stated that William Henry Barnett believed Captain Norris of the ship Dilbhur owed him 10 pounds, which the Captain rejected. William had organised an assault of the Captain on the Semaphore pier by three of his old mates.

By now William had become a regular customer and in 1878 he was again before a judge, accused of being a 'pauper lunatic'. He failed to show up in court even though he was held in police cells. A doctor certified that he was 'just drunk and hung over', which meant that he was not declared a lunatic and had to answer the charges.

In April 1880, once more a Boarding House keeper, William had to place a notice in some of the local papers reminding Captain McFis and others to remove their luggage from his store room at the Adelaide Boarding House, Port Adelaide within 7 days. If they failed to do so he would sell them to defray expenses.

A few months later he was in a court once more. This time to defend himself from claims that Seaman's Union enforcers, Frederick Morris, Peter Paulsen, Charles Smith and Fred Rasmussen had been putting pressure on a sailor to get off a ship because he had not paid for his lodgings at William's boarding house.

Amongst other things they claimed that the sailor owed WH Barnett 1 pound for a week's board and therefore had taken his trunk to William's boarding house. The Magistrate however found the evidence of the Union and William's not reliable and ordered them to pay 5 pounds each, for inducing someone to desert. William was fined 10 pounds plus cost of more than 12 pounds. Williams troubles did not end here either.

At its regular meeting on 11 February, the Marine Board asked the Port Corporation to 'not renew William's licence to keep a boarding house because he had been convicted of a serious attempt at extortion'. The Mayor agreed as he had 'never known a worse instance of intimidation of seamen in the annals of South Australia's History'.

The case was widely reported and caused quite a sensation. When the licence came up for renewal William did not renew it and it just lapsed. Knowing that he would probably not get a licence he solved the problem in his own way. On 23 March 1881, WH Barnett jun. of Nile Street applied for, and was granted a licence to keep a boarding house.

Soon after the wedding of his daughter Caroline to Patrick D'Orsey in 1882 in Port Augusta, the young couple, plus Caroline's mother and her sons, moved to Melbourne. William Henry though stayed in Adelaide. Patrick eventually returned to South Australia again.

After all these hassles William senior went AWOL again. Where to is unknown, but the Government Gazette of 1 April 1886 listed him as being declared insolvent on 29 January 1885. It also stated that matters had been transferred to the Moonta Local Court. As this was just an official listing there was no address given for him. He could have been anywhere.

It is not until 1893 that we find him working as a gold miner in the northern Flinders Ranges. First on the Angepena field, which had been discovered in 1892. There were no spectacular finds but in December 1893 it was rumoured that a 50oz nugget had been found. William, and a few dozen other miners, wrote to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, strongly rejecting that claim. They thought it to be a ploy by Mr Macey the local storekeeper to attract more customers to his 'not too busy' shop.

It is unlikely we will ever know what it was. It could well have been a true story but that the miners didn't want any more men on the field. Too many diggers would spoil the broth.

When the Angepena field was finally declared a duffer, William moved on to the nearby Boolooroo goldfield where his son-in-law, Patrick D'Orsey, also had done some digging. William, although getting on in years, still seemed to be healthy enough for the hard work and the primitive living conditions on the field.

Local area map.

However, after some early work on 13 March 1895 he went back to his tent where he was later found dead. With no known relatives a sale of his belongings was requested by the Public Trustee and was duly held on 15 May. They included a large tent, cradle, pannican, gold dishes, billy can, two throughs and some buckets. His assets also included 20 bags of wash-dirt, but whatever happened to them remains a mystery to this day.

The sale was witnessed by Mounted Constable Edward Napoleon Bonaparte Catchlove, of the nearby Beltana police station. JW Duck the Justice of the Peace of Leigh's Creek, now known as Copley, bought some of the goods for 15 shillings while JR Harvey bought the rest for 12 shillings.

The total of 27 shilling was returned to the Trustee who assumed, erroneously, that William had left no last will or testament, and had no widow or lawful next of kin. He may not have made a will or testament but his wife, Mary Anne and her married daughter, were living in Pilgrim Street Footscray, Victoria at that time. His wife died at Marden on 2 February 1915.

The above photo of William and his wife was made by Marchant Studio in Gawler and donated to the State Library of South Australia by the family of the photographer, who kept it because he was not paid by William Barnett.


With special thanks to Peter Barnett who did most of the research.


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