The Merritt Family of South Australia

The Merritt Family

Part 2

William Merritt’s family, with the exception of Will, now moved north to Jeparit, 65 miles north of Natimuk. The local children attended the one room, one teacher elementary school where free education was provided by the government. Students included Oscar and Mary Merritt and Robert Gordon Menzies, the later Prime Minister. Mary was nearly 45 and William 50 when their last child was born. They purchased a house in Rainbow where William established himself as a small-time fruiterer and vendor of small foodstuffs.

In May 1907 a fire occurred on their premises situated at the rear of the Royal Hotel. Fortunately it broke out in the hessian apartment adjoining the house, which the flames were prevented from reaching by the united efforts of many willing workers who quickly assembled. Several articles amounting to a total value of £10 were destroyed. William died at Rainbow on 24 March 1919 and Mary returned to Adelaide where she died in 1941.

In 1893, Will Merritt, aged 15 years, overlanded to the Western Australia goldfields and worked as a water carrier between Southern Cross and Coolgardie before the railway was laid. He then cut sleepers in the South West Jarrah forests before settling at Capel. He married Ellen Power Moore and they had ten children. Will was foreman at Sabina Vale Group Settlement number 36, and later a Group Settlement Inspector around the Vasse area. He was working as a Forestry foreman at Cundinup when he died in 1933.

Frank Merritt continued to live at Grand Junction and later at Bushy Farm, where he followed his father’s earlier occupation as a carrier, operating his teams from the Bushy Farm. His eldest daughter, Lettice or Letitia, was born there prior to his marriage. She later married Peter Doyle at Adelaide and lived at Port Pirie with her husband until her death in 1890 at the young age of 28. Their younger daughter Rebecca, born at Grand Junction, married John Thomas Jones and lived in Kensington, Adelaide, where her mother Emma Merritt died in 1907.

On 8 January 1874, Frank was in charge of a heavily-laden dray bringing wheat from The Light to Dry Creek Station. About three miles from Virginia, he tumbled from his seat after falling asleep and sustained a severe fracture below the knee of his right leg. Being alone he clambered into his dray and drove his team till he reached a house a short distance from the scene of the mishap. He was admitted to the Adelaide Hospital. After being discharged from hospital he recuperated at the Grand Junction Inn.

In August 1902 Frank was working on the construction site for the Adelaide Steamship Company’s new building in Currie Street. While a number of men were making excavations, a large piece of earth gave way onto Frank and Richard Hennessy. Hennessy was fully buried by the earth but Frank was more fortunate, as he was only partially entombed. Richard Hennessy was quickly rescued, and was taken to the Adelaide Hospital, where it was found that three of his ribs and his collarbone were broken.

Frank’s only apparent injury was to his ankle and he was taken to his home. He was probably admitted to hospital later that evening, as authorities stated Frank Merritt was in a very low condition, although his injuries would not prove fatal.

On 21 February 1909 Frank cut his throat with a blunt table knife at Beryl Street, North Broken Hill. Senior-Constable Newton saw the defendant lying outside a hut with a cut in his throat and covered with blood. He asked the defendant what was the matter, and the latter replied: ‘I am tired of life. I tried to cut my throat with a knife, but the knife was not sharp enough.’ He took defendant to the Hospital and was soon released. Frank was then charged with attempting to commit suicide and attended court with his brother John who was a respected butcher and citizen of Broken Hill. Frank elected to have the charge dealt with summarily, and pleaded guilty. John Merritt said that at times Frank’s mind appeared to be unhinged, but that he didn’t think he would make another attempt on his life.

Frank was sentenced to three months imprisonment, the sentence suspended under the First Offenders Act on a bond of £20, with a surety of £20 to be of good behaviour for 12 months. Frank was described as an old man suffering from rheumatism, and over-indulging in liquor. In 1912 Frank, suffering from dementia, was admitted to Parkside Lunatic Asylum Hospital and died at Eastwood, aged 67 years.

After the death of publican John Merritt in 1858 his widow Elizabeth took over the management of the Grand Junction Inn and at the next Yatala District Council quarterly licensing meeting on 13 September the licence of the Grand Junction Inn was transferred from the executors of the late John Merritt to his widow Elizabeth Merritt. Elizabeth renewed her publican’s licence at the next annual licensing meeting.

The southern 41 acres, Part Section 360, being Bushy Farm with cottage and outbuildings, was held in trust under the terms of his will and used by various members of the Merritt family until the death of John Merritt’s widow Elizabeth Eldridge in 1876. In February 1877 the southern 41 acres Part Section 360 was sold. The land was transferred a year later when administration of John Merritt’s estate was finalised.

The death in May 1860 of Martha Eldridge, wife of John Eldridge the publican of the Hand and Heart Inn at Prospect was to affect the Merritt family greatly. John Eldridge had certainly been well acquainted with John and Elizabeth Merritt. He came from the village of Cocking in West Sussex a few miles north of where John Merritt was born and raised as a child.

In Adelaide he made and repaired roads near the Grand Junction Inn for a number of years while the Merritt family had the Inn. They would have met at the Yatala District Council licensing meetings. At the time of his wife’s death, John Eldridge had one child Eliza aged 14 years. On 2 August 1860 at Christchurch, North Adelaide, the Rev. John Woodcock solemnised the marriage between widower John Eldridge of Prospect Village and widow Elizabeth Merritt of the Grand Junction Inn.

The officiating witnesses at the marriage were John Eldridge’s brother David and Mary Merritt the wife of Henry Merritt. Mary Merritt’s address on the certificate shows her residence as North Road, which gives little indication of her exact address, but she probably resided at the Inn.

After their marriage John Eldridge left the day to day running of the Heart and Hand to his brother David and at the next annual licensing meeting John Eldridge transferred the Heart and Hand Inn at Prospect Village to his brother and the Grand Junction licence was transferred from Elizabeth Merritt to John Eldridge.

Henry Merritt who applied to migrate in 1839, but was denied, had a rather colourful background. In December 1843 he was convicted at Chichester of poaching and fined 13 shillings with costs of 7 shillings. The following August he was again before the same court and was convicted of stealing and carrying away soil from the highway in the parish of East Lavant and fined 21 shillings with costs of 7 shillings. Not being able to pay he was committed to the Petworth House of Correction for two months.

Immediately after he was released Henry was arrested for stealing a gun with John Holden from the premises of Mr Long of the North Gate, Chichester. It was alleged the offence occurred before his detention. At the Chichester Quarter Sessions in December both were convicted and committed to hard labour for four months. At the age of 21 Henry and John Holden were both employed by George Gaterell, a carrier. In early August 1846 Henry and his employer’s brother Stephan Gaterell delivered goods to Fareham and on the return trip Henry collected a sack of pollard for his employer. On 3 August 1846 Henry was committed for trial by the Chichester City Bench on the charge of stealing the sack of pollard in the parish of St Andrews.

On 20 October 1846 Henry appeared before the West Sussex Michealmas Quarter Sessions at Chichester, represented by Mr Sherwood. He was accused of stealing one sack containing three bushels of pollard valued at four shillings, a horse loin cloth, value sixpence and a tarpaulin coat, value sixpence, the property of his employer, George Gaterell. He was convicted, and having former felony convictions was sentenced to seven years transportation. Henry Merritt was one of the nine thousand or so convicts transported to the penal establishment in Gibraltar. He was released in March 1851 at a time when convict transportation was nearing its end.

Henry migrated to South Australia and died in 1862 after falling from the shaft of his dray while working as a carrier between Kadina and Clinton. It was an offence for teamsters to ride on dray and wagon draw pole shafts, but because of tiredness on long journeys they often did anyway, sometimes at their own peril. He died the same night. That same year Henry and John’s father, John, died at the age of 80 years. Henry’s widow Mary was aged 26 and apparently childless at the time. Mary Merritt née Lavin remarried to William Albert Carter in 1866 and had three children.

In the early 1860s there were a number of other changes to the Merritt family. John Eldridge and his daughter Eliza joined the Merritt family at the Grand Junction Inn. John and Elizabeth Merritt’s eldest daughter Eliza married Joseph Middleton, son of family friend George Middleton of the Tam O’Shanter Belt at Trinity Church, Adelaide, on 25 May 1861.

Eliza Merritt’s husband Joseph was a native of Yorkshire, and came to Australia with his parents when he was a boy of about 10 years on the ship Marion, which was wrecked within sight of Port Adelaide. He moved to Broken Hill about four years before he died there. In his younger years he was one of the first that went from Adelaide right through to the Northern Territory. He was employed at the Wallaroo railway station for many years, and trained a great many horses there for shunting purposes.

When he died he left seven sons to mourn. A H Middleton (auctioneer), E J Middleton (clerk at Merritt’s, butcher), H S Middleton (jeweller), H Middleton (engine driver at Stephens Creek), G J Middleton (stationmaster at Burra), A G Middleton (railway stationmaster at Mount Bryan), and the Rev F C Middleton, of Brookdale, Canada.

After his marriage to the widow Elizabeth Merritt, John Eldridge became the publican of the Grand Junction Inn. In 1864 the new couple and their families moved to Wallaroo where they built the Prince of Wales Hotel at 32 Hughes Street, Wallaroo. The Grand Junction Inn was leased to a number of publicans until the authorities refused to licence the premises because it was dirty and had insufficient accommodation.

By the time the Prince of Wales at Wallaroo was opened many of the Merritt family had moved to the booming copper mining area. Henry Merritt had been a carrier in the area until he fell from the pole of his dray and died. James and Jane Merrett disposed of their Allendale property to move to Wallaroo with their younger daughter Jane and son Henry and his wife Maria née McAuliffe and their child.

Elizabeth Eldridge’s married daughters Eliza Middleton and Sarah Pegler, with their families also moved there a few years later. Sarah and her husband Augustus Henry Pegler’s first child died at childbirth but they had two others before arriving at Wallaroo. They stayed only briefly at Wallaroo before passing through Thebarton, Adelaide, where their fifth child was born, and then on to Ned’s Corner, River Murray, Victoria, near Wentworth NSW, where they remained for 17 years until 1886. The Pegler family then relocated to Milo Station, Queensland and then to nearby Charleville, where Sarah died.

On 18 February 1866 at the Congregational Manse, Kadina, there was a double wedding of John Eldridge’s daughter Eliza to John McRostie, a teamster and Elizabeth Eldridge’s daughter Jane Merritt to Edward Johnston. When Edward was 16 years old his father died and he had joined a ship’s crew and sailed from Denmark.

In the early 1860s Julius Edward Jensen jumped ship in Albany, Western Australia and made his way to Wallaroo in South Australia where he worked in the copper smelters and married Jane Merritt. In 1867 Julius Jensen wrote home to Denmark advising his family that he was married with a little boy, and that in South Australia he was known as Edward Johnston, and that he was likely to stay in Australia for a long time. He had been employed in the copper smelters for three years earning £3 per week working 12 hours a day.

He also told his mother that his wife sent her regards and that her family lived in Adelaide. They had two hotels and he was hopeful that he might eventually get one. Edward and Jane Johnston née Merritt’s last five of six children were born at the Prince of Wales, Wallaroo and on 31 May 1873 Charlotte Johnston, their youngest daughter died there aged 13 months. Edward Johnston became the licensee of the Prince of Wales in 1868 and held the licence until 1879 when the hotel was sold after the death of Jane’s mother, Elizabeth Eldridge.

Two years after the Grand Junction lost its licence John and Elizabeth Eldridge were residing there when Frank Merritt had his accident in January 1874. Elizabeth Eldridge, formerly Merritt née Figg, died at Wallaroo on 3 November 1876. According to the terms of the will of her first husband, the late John Merritt, his real property was held in trust during Elizabeth’s lifetime and advertised for sale by auction in February and March 1877.

The last reported residence of any member of the Merritt family at the Grand Junction Inn is the birth of Frank Merritt’s second daughter Rebecca. She was born there on 27 April 1877. It is possible that the Merritt family had right of occupancy of the Inn and farm at least until 14 February 1878, due to problems to execute a transfer deed with the new owners.

Eliza Middleton applied to the Supreme Court on behalf of the beneficiaries of the estate of Elizabeth Eldridge to bring portion of Section 1001 Hundred of Port Adelaide and part Section 360 Survey B, under the Real Property Act of 1861, to enable the transfer of the property. The stumbling block came in proving the death of John Merritt. It was belatedly discovered the death registration, in clear handwriting, incorrectly named him as ‘John Mowitt.’ Luckily Thomas King, one of John Merritt’s executors was still around and was able to declare, among other things:

That he knew, and was well acquainted with, John Merritt formerly of the Grand Junction in the said Province, Licensed Victualler, deceased. That he was one of the executors named in the will of the said John Merritt bearing the date of 10 November 1857… and That the said John Merritt died at Grand Junction aforesaid on the 7th Day of June 1858 and he is the same person referred to in the certificate of death … annexed … but is in such certificate incorrectly described by the surname Mowitt.

John Merritt’s will that his farm at Gepp’s Cross and the Grand Junction Inn be held in trust for his children as long as his widow lived had been an incentive for most children to remain in the colony. The death of his widow Elizabeth released to his beneficiaries the assets of the estate giving some of his children financial independence for the first time and an opportunity to leave South Australia if they wished to do so.

Nearly a year before Thomas King satisfied the authorities by his declaration that John Merritt was the past owner and since deceased, the Inn was occupied under lease by William Thaddeus Stubbs late of Rosewater. Frank Merritt was probably living at the house on Section 1001 in April 1877, as in the same month that Rebecca Merritt was born at Grand Junction, William and Mary Ann Stubbs and their five year old child Isabella took up residence in the Grand Junction Inn.

Stubbs was deeply in debt, but ever the optimist he spent nearly £300 restoring the Inn to the standard he considered suitable for licensing the house. At the December licensing meeting William Stubbs applied for a publican’s general licence for the Grand Junction Inn. Inspector Thomas Bee opposed the application on the ground that the house was not required and the application was refused. It was to be the last licencing application for the Grand Junction Inn, which was first licensed on 12 June 1850. Between 9 June 1851 and 26 March 1872 the Inn was licensed and or owned by various members of the Merritt family.

Between 1866 and 1876 John and Elizabeth Eldridge lived at various times at Grand Junction and at Wallaroo. In November 1876 Elizabeth Eldridge died suffering from corditis at Wallaroo aged 66 years. John Eldridge sold the Prince of Wales Hotel and joined his brother George and his family in Victoria.

The Johnston family moved to Port Augusta. There were six Johnston children, but the third daughter died aged thirteen months in 1873. In 1880 Jane died of ‘disease of the heart’ at the age of 35 years. Edward’s occupation then was gardener. According to Johnston family oral history Jane heavily imbibed alcohol and consumed a full bottle of brandy on the eve of her death.

After the death of Jane Johnston née Merritt, her eldest son Harold worked around Port Augusta and for two years lived the life of a remote station hand. He died in his ninetieth year and saw many technological advances. He wrote an account of his early life in the Port Augusta district, relating the catching of rabbits as a lad at 1d per scalp, working on a farm where bullocks were used exclusively to draw a three-furrow plough and carting wheat and chaff 18 miles to Port Augusta, a trip that took two days. He later undertook to drive a team of 16 bullocks to Birdsville. He worked on a remote outstation on the Diamantina living on game, damper and beef, where mail was received via Hergott Springs, now Marree, only every three months.

Between 1902 and 1904 Jane’s widower, Edward Johnston and his family, Harold, wife Eliza Adamson and three children, Alice, husband James Stacey and five children, Marion, husband Eugene Harris and five children, son Julius, and daughter Lily May all moved to Western Australia where they took up a number of small acreages at Caversham near Guildford. One of the lots was known as Beechboro Farm.

At the turn of the century Joe Stone, Julius Johnston and Jim Craig leased the garden part of the Beechboro Farm, which was watered by freshwater springs. They supplied the Kalgoorlie market with vegetables. Two of the partners would tend to the growing and picking while the other handled the distribution. The extended Johnston families left Caversham to take up selected land in the Dangin and Quairading districts of Western Australia.

The members of the Merritt family proved to be very mobile, not only economically or socially but also geographically. After the death of the original migrants, John and Elizabeth Merritt, several of their children and many of their descendants moved to other locations both in South Australia and to other colonies and later states. It would be interesting if we could hear what John and Elizabeth thought of the results of their decision to migrate a week after their marriage, back in 1839.


With special thanks to Lance Merritt for permission to publish this article.
It is part of his, as yet unpublished, manuscript Merritt's Grand Junction Inn.

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