in Family history

What happened to Eliza Morey?

Sometimes in my tree I get lazy. I learn who the ancestor is, who they married, what children they had. And then I assume that nothing else of interest happened to them between the birth of the youngest child and their peaceful passing at some ripe old age, with family all around. Sometimes, if I can’t find their death record, I just move on to researching another family.

It’s not a good practice. Those later years of someone’s life can give a lot of clues to their personality and their experiences.

So it was with Eliza.

She’s one of my Chardstock ancestors. It’s a village on the Dorset/Devon border, quite close to Somerset, equally close to Gloucestershire. If its families were prone to travel you’d have to look at all four counties for their records. But luckily – for me – most of my Chardstock ancestors just lived in that little village for at least four hundred years.

On the map below, Chardstock is roughly where the blue cross is over the U in Bournemouth. It’s a rural place: farming mostly. They still recognised the yeomanry there. The social order stayed as it always had been. There were gentleman families and there were labourers. It was, I suspect, parochial even for rural Dorset. And it’s my guess that Eliza dreamed of something more.

Eliza was baptised on 9th October 1825 in Chardstock, the youngest child of John Larcombe and his wife Prudence Wilmington. So far six children have been identified: Sarah born 1808, Robert 1810, William 1816, Martha 1820, Elizabeth 1823 and my Eliza in 1825. And yes, they considered Elizabeth and Eliza to be completely different names. There are gaps in that family, enough for at least three more children.

They were a poor family. John Larcombe was a labourer and the children went out to work once they reached their teen years. Prudence their mother died in 1838 and by the 1841 census the family had well and truly scattered. The older ones aren’t so relevant to this story, but here’s Eliza herself, a 15 year old servant in Chardstock.

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and here’s the second youngest, Eliza’s 16 year old sister Elizabeth working as a female servant for Zachariah Chick in the town Cricket St Thomas in Somerset. (The 1841 census rounded ages to the nearest five). At 45 Zachariah was a widower and a yeoman farmer. Only a few of his children were still at home, but being a higher social class than the Larcombes they were not required to go out to work.

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Over the next few years Elizabeth and Eliza both settled down, but in very different ways. Elizabeth’s first child was baptised in 1844 – a son Edwin, in the register as Edwin Larcombe since she was unmarried, but with Zachariah Chick listed as the father. And Eliza was married in Chardstock to William Morey, a young man from a longstanding Chardstock family of the same status as herself.

William and Eliza became parents to John in 1846, and made the decision about this time to emigrate to Australia. It may have been Elizabeth’s comfortable life that prompted Eliza, because Elizabeth was settled in as mistress in charge, mother of three children now to Zachariah Chick though not actually married to him.

New South Wales was the land of hope in those days, and stories were beginning to filter into England about gold, and tin, and riches just lying on the ground waiting to be scooped up.

And so they went to join the gold rush and make their fortunes, and maybe escape the oppressive poverty and lack of opportunity in their home town. They put their names down for an emigration scheme, were accepted, and in 1848 they boarded the Adelaide for their grand future.

I’m pretty sure this is what Eliza had in mind. And William went along with it, easy to convince, happy in his marriage. Ready to make a go of whatever was to come. I can’t be quite sure, but I think this explains how it all turned out. I don’t think he was an adventurer at heart. But he was a hardworking man with plenty of courage, ready to have a good shot at it.

Here they are in the shipping records, arriving in New South Wales.

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Emigration assistance schemes weren’t for gold seekers. They were bringing workers in to fill skill shortages, like farmers and farm labourers and domestic servants. There were requirements to work for a contracted length of time in that job before you could strike out alone. The Moreys ended up at what would one day be called Beechworth. In the 1840s it was a couple of large stations and agents from mining couples, drifting prospectors and a few hopeful shopkeepers. Hotels were being built to accommodate the workers. Roads were mere tracks. It was rough country. It must have been very strange for the Moreys.

They seem to have taken it in their stride. William found work as a farm labourer, Eliza no doubt worked as well. By the time their daughter Elizabeth was born in 1850, they’d fulfilled their contractual obligations.

They headed for the hills. Specifically, for the Black Ranges, later known as Narrandera.

We only know this because their third child William was born here in 1852. Baby William is my great great grandfather.


There’s no record of their life here, prospecting for gold. They might have found a bit. William certainly gained a few skills in mining, made friends and formed partnerships with others doing the same. They might as well have stepped into another universe. We know their daughter Eliza was born in 1854 because she’s with them in later years. And why the three year gap? Did they lose a child in there? If so, that might have formed part of their decision to come back. A 250 mile slog down the Great Dividing Range, back almost to their starting point.

Mary Jane’s birthplace in 1856 is commonly given as Reedy Creek. I haven’t seen the original record myself. But three years later George is born at Reid’s Creek near Beechworth, which seems an astounding coincidence. It seems more likely that this was Mary Jane’s birthplace too.

I don’t think the gold seeking venture was a success. It was the hunt for gold that brought them back.

Map of Victoria showing Reedy Creek and Beechworth

Gold was discovered at Reid’s Creek in 1852. The Morey family came straight back to the man who was probably their original employer and this time they stayed, not far from the village that took its name from the nearby El Dorado mine.

Emily was born in 1861 and the family was – apparently – complete.

Back in England, most of the Larcombe siblings were settled down. Elizabeth finally got her marriage to Zachariah Chick. After six children were born to them they married in 1855 and then had three more. Elizabeth’s youngest, Fanny Chick, was born the same year as little Emily Morey.

But in Reid’s Creek things weren’t so good.

They’d travelled across the world. They’d put their hearts into it, gone into the wilderness where there was no protection against violence, against sickness, against wild animals and hostile humans. To places where people went mad from loneliness. They survived and came back to relative civilisation.

But they were still exactly where they started. They were still just subsisting, still labouring in the employ of other people. They still had nothing of their own. And they didn’t know how to change that.

The Moreys were living in a rough area. There was more movement now between Sydney and Melbourne, the gold rush was in full swing and thousands of newcomers were arriving in the colonies every week, sometimes each day. That’s not an exaggeration, there were several boats a week to each port, each carrying a few hundred passengers. The New South Wales and Victorian governments scrambled to establish laws, to control the influx and maintain some law and order, and also to hang onto their resources. The constabulary was rapidly increasing, mining inspectors were being hastily trained and sent out to the field, and mining consortiums sought to stake the best claims, using all their experience and financial backing to buy land and force the incoming gold seekers into employee roles rather than the freelance prospectors most of them wanted to be.

Drifters were everywhere, some of them quite desperate.

By 1860 along the Ovens River near Beechworth, there wasn’t much land left to be claimed. There was a lot of theft, the occasional murder. And a lot of hungry people.

William Morey knew what he was seeing. The dream for sudden riches was over. I think he saw it as a fool’s quest. He was a quiet man, maybe not creative, but he knew when he was flogging a dead horse. He turned back to what he knew; farm work, for Mr Reid.

But Eliza still hoped, and maybe resented William for giving it up.

In 1858 the Moreys were involved in a court case. Nothing too big.

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Just a small issue over a pig. Eliza apparently borrowed it, and lost it, and was disputing that she ought to pay ten pounds to compensate the owner for the loss. Or perhaps disputed that the pig was worth ten pounds. Since ownership of the pig could not be verified, the case was dismissed.

In 1862 came a bigger court case.

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It’s hard to know what to make of this. There’s a fair bit of it at the time, people bringing grievances like this to court. In one way it seems like petty stuff, but in that location, in that decade, the loss of a pig or the ability of a cow to breed could push a struggling farmer into insolvency. Did the pig actually go missing? Did the Moreys innocently believe those cows were still fertile and the absence of calves was just a matter of waiting? The story changes over the months too. First, they brought the cows and left them in a yard but the cows jumped out and returned to the herd. Second, Ferguson himself asked them to take the cows back because they were supposed to have calves and they could be impregnated in the herd. Third, he refused to have them because they were old and dry. Everyone involved said contradictory things.

The matter was back in court a year later. It’s a tedious case, but we get a feel for their life through it. In summary, Ferguson was to receive two cows and two calves in return for building work, he was given two old dry cows without calves, potentially too old even to have more. He agreed to leave the cows with the Moreys to ‘run with the herd’, in effect, so they would get pregnant. But now the cows are nowhere to be found and he seems to have lost everything. He wants his pay in some form. The legal response is different depending on whether the cows ever came into his possession in the first instance, or not. The original case can be retried because its principal witness went to jail for perjury after a different case, and that casts doubt on his testimony.

It seems petty to us, but cattle stealing carried the death penalty for a while and still led to life imprisonment, so the courts took the matter very seriously.

Ferguson v Morey


John Ferguson: I am a splitter and reside at El Dorado. In August 1861, I was engaged by William Morey to erect a hut. I had a conversation with Morey about the payment and he agreed to give two cows with calves at foot as equivalent to 16 Pounds. The cows were delivered at my yard but were returned, as not being according to agreement. About twelve months afterwards I demanded the money from the defendant. Summonsed him for the money. Defendant after that delivered two dry cows at plaintiff’s yard.

I remember the trial at Wangaratta. On that occasion a man named John Williams was examined. Williams swore that he was a servant of Morey’s, and that plaintiff had agreed to take two dry cows as payment, consequently he (plaintiff)
was nonsuited without costs.

I agreed to put up a kitchen, a dairy and a milking yard for the sum of 16 Pounds. These are the very same costs as the action was brought for at Wangaratta. My wife was present when the sows were delivered.


Mrs Eliza Ferguson: I am wife of the previous witness. Was present when the cows were delivered by defendant. A son of Morey’s and another man delivered them. They said they brought the cows from Mrs Morey. Refused to take delivery because the cows had no calves at foot. I got the receipt from a little girl. The cows were to be worth 8 Pounds each.


John Rice: I am a bullock driver. I was present when the cows were delivered at Ferguson’s yard by Morey and his servant man. Ferguson was present, but refused to take delivery. I took no action in the affair. I have nothing to say about the cows.


Mary Ann Evans: About two years ago, I resided at the El Dorado. I received a piece of paper from Mr Morey, which said he had cows and put them in the yard. The cows jumped out of the yard again.


For the defence:


William Morey: I am a shepherd but I was formerly a dairyman. The plaintiff came to my place and selected two cows and said he would have them. I did not guarantee that the cows were in calf. They were two of the best cows I had. I delivered them at Ferguson’s yard. It was a good yard with a three rail fence. Ferguson was not present at the delivery. I haven’t seen the cows since. We have not eaten either of them. Ferguson asked permission of me to run the cows with his herd. I never saw Ferguson for twelve months after the cows were delivered. We were to keep the cows until they calved. I should think the cows had been on the run for six years.


Mrs Eliza Morey: I remember making an agreement about two years ago, with Ferguson to erect some buildings. Mr Ferguson wished two cows as the cost of the labor. He selected two cows at the time, and agreed to do the work. I offered him two cows with calves at foot, but he said he would rather wait a year and have those he had chosen. The cows were, at that time, fully worth 16 Pound.

Ferguson never finished the work. I remember my husband taking away the cows in order to deliver them to the him. He retained the account to have it altered. He asked for the cows to run with our cows. I said he might if he received Mr Reid’s consent. The cows were running in the bush when Ferguson’s mate selected them. He was to wait until the cows calved. The receipt is in my handwriting. A man named Williams gave evidence in a former case. He has since been convicted of perjury. It did not arise out of the case between my husband and the plaintiff.


James Rohner: Was present when the agreement was made. Was present also at the second delivery. The cows were good ones. I have been in Mr Morey’s employ for five years. Can’t say how long Williams was in the employ of Mr Morey. There was nothing said about calves.


John Morey: I am the son of the defendant. Was present when the agreement was made between the plaintiff and defendant. The cows were Ferguson’s own selecting. Plaintiff was offered two cows with calves at foot, but he said he would rather have two old cows. The cows have never had a calf since. I am eighteen years old, but the cows are not as old as me. I saw the cows not long ago: about a fortnight ago. I have never seen the bones of either of the cows.


Mrs Morey: I bought the two cows as milk cows. They might have been six years old when I bought them, not too old to have calves. They have not since had calves.

Verdict for the plaintiff, for 16 pounds with 1 pound 33s, costs.

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In between those hearings about the cows was another. In January 1863, the Moreys were taken to court for being in possession of someone else’s horse. I won’t put the whole thing here, but there are a few more details about the lives of William and Eliza that shed some light on their lives. This is the case where John Williams perjured himself, referenced in the matter of the cows.

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The big takeaway here, for me, is that William Morey was not often home. And in fact he had become quite isolated from his family. It’s hard to know how involved he actually was in these events.

Whether the Moreys were dishonest or innocent was not known, but there was clearly some bad feelings against them now. And there’s a clear escalation in the ‘misunderstandings’.

It settles down after this. Or the cases were not published in the paper, I’m not sure.

In 1866 Elizabeth Morey, eldest daughter, married George Russell and their son George was born a year later. As far as I can tell, this is William and Elizabeth’s first grandchild.

And in 1865-1867, I’ve not found a birth so I can’t tell, William and Eliza’s final child was born, a son named Edward Chick Morey.

Why would they give their child that name?

For many years I did not think he was one of our family. I saw his name in the records, but I knew that Chick was not a family name; I have their ancestry back to the 1600s, Chardstock keeps good records. Chick is not even a name of the region. But DNA has proven the connection, and now I know that Eliza’s sister married a Chick so it does make some sense … but honestly, not much.

And then in 1869, George and Elizabeth Russell’s second child is born. A son they name Zachariah Chick Russell.

Once again, why???

I notice that Zachariah Chick’s father, whose name was also Zachariah Chick, died in about 1865 in England. Did money from his will filter their way?

Or did Zachariah and Elizabeth maybe come out to Australia to visit the Moreys? And Zachariah was so impressive they started hero worshipping him?

It did cross my mind that young Edward might not be William Morey’s child. It also crossed my mind that young Edward might be a grandchild of Eliza’s, not her own. But without more records there’s no way to find out.

And then things fell apart completely.

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That familiar notice, showing that all is not well in the marriage. That the couple have separated.

Eliza and the children continued in the same house on Mr Reid’s property. William, presumably, made a new home for himself at Rutherford where he was working.

The separation was permanent. And in 1872, Eliza was back in court.

LARCENY Eliza Morey surrendered to her bail on the above charge, and was placed at the bar. The prisoner was charged with stealing, or feloniously receiving, on the 20th March, a dress, the property of Johanna Diedrich.

Johanna Diedrich deposed : I was in the service of Mrs Wallace, when I lost a dress from a line at the back of the house at El Dorado. I missed it the following morning, and informed the police. The dress produced is the same. I had a piece of the material of which it was made, which is now produced. Maria Taylor, dressmaker, identified the dress produced as having been made by her for last witness. Constable Strachan, deposed to searching defendant’s premises under warrant. She claimed all the things in a certain box, and said that she had bought the dress produced from Mr Wright, draper, of El Dorado.

Elizabeth Nester (actually Russell), married daughter of accused, deposed that Mrs O’Neill had been confined in her house. She had taken her in out of charity. On leaving, Mrs O’Neill had given her a jacket. Soon afterwards, Mrs O’Neill was sent for a month to Beechworth gaol for drunkenness. When she came out, she returned and asked the jacket back, giving a dress in exchange. That was the dress produced (by the police), and she gave it to her sister, Mary Jane Morey , as it was too small for herself. The dress was given her on the Wednesday before Good Friday.

Mary Jane Morey and Eliza Morey, daughters of the prisoner, corroborated the above evidence in several particulars.

The Crown Prosecutor wished to call the governor of Beechworth gaol to prove on what day the Mrs O’Neill referred to had been discharged from imprisonment, but this was opposed by Mr Bowman, and not allowed by the court. The Crown Prosecutor having briefly replied, his Honor, with equal brevity, summed up, when the jury requested to retire. After a short interval they returned with a verdict of Not Guilty. 

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By this year, Eliza Morey’s name was pretty much mud in the little mining locality of El Dorado near Beechworth. William was gone, she had a baby to deal with and the rest of her children were teenagers. It seems as if John and William Jr did everything. There’s another case in court where William Morey apparently did not hold up to a deal and it emerged that nobody had seen him, they’d only dealt with the sons, and there were rumours that Mr Morey did not even live there any more. There was also an accusation of perjury against Eliza which was thrown out before coming to court.

Poor Eliza was doing it tough. Poor William Senior was probably doing it tough too, but he didn’t get into the papers so we don’t know. Which could be an indication that maybe Eliza was the one behind all the dodgy deals, while William was absent. But maybe she was a victim of a toxic community.

Young Eliza married George Cruse in nearby Albury in 1882, and after that – for a while – the rest of the family seemed to drop straight off the map.

William Morey Junior – my great great grandfather, kindly shared by my second cousin.

When you start researching a family tree, you begin with the present day and go back. So I started with my great grandmother Stella Peard nee Morey, the lady who first inspired my interest in family history. She was ninety years old when I was ten, and she was the daughter of William Junior, pictured above. There’s more about William Junior in this blog post.

We knew all about William Junior. He was one of the first settlers in his region, and the district is crowded with his descendants today. It took a little more work to get back to his parents. But while we found their names, their baptisms and their emigration, their later years only came to light recently.

It wasn’t my discovery. It was one of my amazing distant cousins who pored over ever record until he found them.

Or more to the point, he found Eliza. To this day nobody knows what became of William Morey. That notice in the paper in 1870 is the last we hear from him. There are a couple of possible deaths in that region, but nothing we can be sure of. He might have gone back to England for all we know.

Eliza started a new life in Melbourne.

In 1879, William Junior married Fanny Fox and they settled in Bethanga. In 1882, Eliza married George Cruse in Albury. In 1894, Mary Jane married John Nankervis in Richmond, now a city of Melbourne. And in 1901, George married Eliza Lang in Richmond. So all signs were there, pointing to Richmond. That’s where she went.

I think Eliza would have liked Melbourne. Farming life wasn’t really her thing, not the hard hot relentless farming that you get in Australia.

In 1906, Eliza was married for a second time. She said she was a widow and maybe she was. She said her first husband died in 1865 and that’s definitely untrue.

She had a new name and new parents. And she’d moved up into that social class that I’m pretty sure she wanted all along.

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Louisa Morey, daughter of John Charles Wilmott and Prudence Dunn, married Presbyterian Reverend Alexander McKay on the 9th of September 1889. He was a gentleman, she was a lady.

There actually was a John Charles Wilmott in New South Wales at that time, but he wasn’t married to a Prudence Dunn. And I can’t find any record of such a couple. And this doesn’t leave one with any confidence that we have the right person.

Could one really connect Louisa McKay, minister’s wife with that determined woman from El Dorado who went to court to argue that two cows were perfectly likely to produce calves and were therefore worth eight pounds each? Could this be the woman who argued that she oughtn’t have to pay for a pig that went missing while in her possession?

You’d think not. But her death certificate pulls the two together.

Eliza aka Louisa McKay died on the 10th August 1907 in Richmond, Victoria. Her death certificate lists all of her children, and comes closer to the truth than that marriage certificate.

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William Junior had a daughter Louisa, but no child called Eliza. I wondered where the name came from.

Did Louisa tell her second husband everything? Did she change herself into somebody she wasn’t to achieve that second marriage, or did Melbourne allow her to finally become the person she was all along?

There are still questions. Why give her youngest child that middle name? Why give false names for your parents? Or was that the minister who made an error, maybe mistranscribed? But if so, how did the name Wilmott end up on the death certification? Her children obviously knew the name.

But she died a lady. Widowed again, but not in the straits she’d found herself in back in El Dorado.

There’s still more to learn in Eliza’s story, but her last few decades truly brought her into view. And this goes to show why it’s worth researching someone to the very end of their life.


  1. 1841 Census: HO107; Piece: 280; Book: 4; Civil Parish: Chardstock; County: Dorset; Enumeration District: 12; Folio: 27; Page: 5; Line: 22; GSU roll: 241337
  2. 1841 Census: HO107 , Piece 954 ,Book number 4, Folio 3, Page 1, Schedule 227
  3. tate Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood New South Wales, Australia; Persons on bounty ships arriving at Port Phillip (Agent’s Immigrant Lists); Series: 5318; Reel: 2144; Item: [4/4816]
  4. Victoria Petty Sessions Registers, 3 Sep 1858-ca. 31 Dec 1861, 1504/P0/Vol 1
  5. “WANGARATTA COUNTY COURT.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 21 August 1862: 2. Web. 2 Apr 2021 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112901277
  6. “Beechworth County court.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 8 October 1863: 2. Web. 2 Apr 2021 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112894692>.
  7. “Beechworth Police Court.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 3 January 1863: 3. Web. 3 Apr 2021 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112892551.
  8. Advertising (1870, October 13). Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196414830
  9. “BEECHWORTH CIRCUIT COURT.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 17 April 1872: 3. Web. 2 Apr 2021 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196857254>.
  10. Marriage registration of Alexander McKay and Louisa Morey.
  11. Death certificate of Louisa McKay

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