skip to content

Rediscovering Ginninderra:
William Sumner

Born: 1806; Died: 1886; Married: Pamela Davis

William Sumner (1806-1886) was the second of five children born between 1804 and 1814 to George and Hannah (Henshall) Sumner and was christened on 23 February 1806 in Wilmslow, Cheshire, England.

William was transported to NSW in 1824. After receiving his Pardon in 1843 he became a miner in the Braidwood district and in 1860 married Pamela Davis (1834-1915). They had seven children:

• Pamela Davis (5/10/1860 -3/6/1938) died in Braidwood unmarried.
• Alice (22/12/1861 - 12/9/1902). Married in 1885 to Thomas Southwell, Ginninderra.
• Agnes (12/6/1863 - 22/6/1942). Married in 1887 to Thomas Butt, Ginninderra.
• Henry William (18/5/1865 - ?).
• George (6/9/1867 - c.1942). Did not marry.
• Frederick (3/7/1868 - 30/6/1887).
• Charles Ernest (11/11/1872 - 12/1/1877). Died aged 4 at Bedullick from disease of the brain after a 4 day illness. Buried at Weetangera Methodist cemetery.

As a youth William had become a calico weaver, but on 7 April 1823 at the Chester Assizes, William Sumner, 17, James Brooks, James Boon and Edward Clarke, 18, were tried for "robbery from the person on the highway". Clarke gave evidence against his accomplices, who were duly convicted and sentenced to death, while Clarke was rewarded with acquittal. William's sentence was commuted to transportation for life and he spent almost a year imprisoned on the hulk 'Bellerophon' moored off Sheerness at the mouth of the Thames.

On 5 March 1824 he and fifteen other boys on the hulk were taken on board the convict transport 'Countess of Harcourt' and placed in special prison quarters under the supervision of trusted adult convicts. The Countess of Harcourt departed Downs on 23 March 1824 and sailed direct for Port Jackson, arriving in July.

The ship's indent describes William Sumner as a native of "Mawly" (Morley), Cheshire, 5 ft 6 inches tall, with fair complexion, light brown hair and hazel eyes.

The new arrivals were inspected by Governor Brisbane on 14 July 1824 and disembarked three days later. They received an issue of rations and clothing (woollen cap, jacket, waistcoat, trousers, stockings, and shoes) and Sumner was among 86 men sent upriver to Parramatta for distribution to settlers, some of them, including William, bound for Windsor.

In August 1824 Sumner was assigned as a government servant to 25 year-old James Macarthur at Camden. By the following year he is recorded as working on the Macarthur estates at Cawdor, about five miles south of Camden, together with 126 other assigned convicts, eight ticket-of-leave convicts, 24 ex convicts and 13 free immigrant and native born workers.

The 1828 census found William Sumner working as a labourer for Lachlan Macalister on Strathaird. His move from Camden to the Taralga district may have been prompted by a government policy of dispersing convicts with life sentences to the outlying areas of settlement, where they were considered less likely to cause trouble.

In December 1842 Sumner applied to marry a 26 year old Irish convict named Mary Devine. Sadly, it was discovered that Mary had married another man the previous year.

William was granted a Ticket of Leave on 11 March 1833, and thirteen years later received a Conditional Pardon (2 March 1846) and was finally free, provided that he did not return to Britain. Aged 40, he had been a convict for almost 23 years.

The goldfields, at Araluen, Major's Creek, and Little River/Mongarlowe, were discovered in 1851-52, and by 1860 William Sumner was recorded as a miner at Little River. In the boom days the town, about 15 km east of Braidwood, had several shops and hotels, three post offices, four schools, three churches and a Chinese joss-house. It has since shrunk to a sleepy rural village of about a dozen homes.

On 7 February 1860 at Braidwood, William, then aged 54, married 26 year old Pamela Davis. William and Pamela were both residents of Little River, and settled there after the wedding. The Sumner's seven children were all born on, or near, goldfields in the vicinity of Braidwood.

Around 1876, aged 70, William left Little River and appears to have briefly become a farmer at Googongs, an area just south of Queanbeyan adjacent to the Queanbeyan River. By Jan 1877 he had moved again and was working as a shepherd at Bedullick (One Tree Hill). The family may have lived on their own selection while William worked on neighbouring farms. His neighbours included brothers Samson Southwell on 'Wattle Park' and Samuel Southwell on 'Cow Hollow', later re-named 'Fairview'.

Tragedy struck the family soon after the move to Bedullick as the youngest child, Charles (1872-1877), died aged four on 12 January 1877 from disease of the brain after a four day illness. His death was registered by Samson Southwell, who is recorded as the undertaker at the child's burial in Weetangera cemetery. The burial was witnessed by James and Samuel Southwell.

The following advertisement, placed in the Australian Town and Country Journal on 7 May1881, suggests that William and Pamela may have separated: "Should this meet the eye of William Sumner, or any person acquainted with him, he or they are earnestly requested to communicate with his wife, Mrs W Sumner, Ginninderra". Similar ads were placed by Pamela six months later, in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post.

Pamela took up two selections of land in Ginninderra Parish in April 1883, one of 50 acres and another of 40 acres.

William Sumner (1806-1886) died on 11 October 1886, aged 80, at Spring Valley, Hall, and was buried at St Pauls C of E cemetery, Ginninderra.

Son Frederick (1868-1887), a Queanbeyan labourer, died on 30 July 1887 of diphtheria and abscess after a short illness, aged 18. After William's death, sons Henry and George appear to have remained at Bedullick.

Pamela Davis Sumner (1860-1938) died at Braidwood in 1938 and had had a son at Spring Range in 1895 - Lester Norman Brent Sumner (known as Norman).

Henry Sumner (1865-?) never married and selected his own property of 340 acres.

George Sumner (1867-c1942) never married and had moved to Ginninderra by 1899 and was working as a labourer.

Alice Sumner (1861-1902) married Thomas Southwell, son of Samson, in 1885 and they settled on "Wattle Vale", Spring Range, Hall, not far from their parents. Alice died of blood poisoning in 1902 and is buried in the Weetangera Cemetery with husband Thomas.

Agnes Sumner (1863-1942) married Thomas Butt, also a Spring Range landholder, in 1887.

Pamela (nee Davis) Sumner died on 28 November 1915 aged 81, at the Spring Range farm of her youngest daughter Agnes Butt (wife of Thomas Butt), where she had lived for many years prior to her death.

Gold was discovered at Spring Range around 1900, but the finds could not sustain a major rush or any long term mining operations. Henry and George Sumner, and their brothers-in-law Thomas Butt and Thomas Southwell were active on the fields from at least 1898 to 1909.

In 1898 a five-man party including Henry Sumner and his brother-in-law Thomas Butt were working a 10 acre gold claim – in August, in one day, the party recovered 19 dwts (pennyweights) of gold, including one nugget weighing 3.5 dwts.

In July 1900 there was plenty of water in Nanima Creek, and a party including Sumner and Southwell had erected a gold puddling machine on their claim. George Sumner and party at the Spring Range mine in about 1903 found two nuggets of six or seven ounces each, as well as smaller nuggets and fine gold. In 1909 Henry found a four-ounce nugget, and his brother-in-law Thomas Southwell and party, operating the oldest claim on the field, recovered gold to the value of two thousand pounds.

Pamela Davis

Pamela Davis arrived in Australia in 1858, aged 23, on the government immigrant ship 'Irene' with her parents Joshua (56) and Pamela (51) Davis, and six of her seven siblings, Asher (25), Seth (20), Noah (17), Ellen (15), Harvey (12), and Jesse (9).

Joshua Davis was the third child of Benjamin and Ann (nee Bowles) Davis. The family came from the small village of Winterbourne Earls on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, only two miles from the cathedral city of Salisbury, and not far from the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge.

The eldest child, Thirza, remained in Wiltshire with her husband, farmer John Marshall.

The family's decision to leave Wiltshire, at the time one of the most impoverished English counties, was apparently triggered by the death in July 1857 of Joshua's mother-in-law, Mary Bowles. Mary, described in the 1851 Census as a 67 year old widowed pauper, had been living with the family.

After a 111 day voyage from Liverpool, the barque arrived in Moreton Bay, Brisbane on 11 February 1858, when Queensland was still part of NSW (It became a separate state in June 1859). Shipping records describe Joshua and his four elder sons as labourers, and his daughters as house servants. The family appears to have obtained 12 months indentured employment at Moreton Bay.

On 22 March 1859, a little over a year after their arrival, the family left Brisbane for Sydney, possibly on the coastal steamer 'Clarence', which departed Moreton Bay on 9 March and arrived in Sydney six days later.

Joshua Davis and his family may have had success on the field, for by 1863 Joshua was farming his own land at Charleys Forest about six km north-east of Little River/Mongarlowe, just east of the Charleys Forest Road. It appears that Joshua continued to work the goldfields as he was described as a digger on the death certificate of his son Asher in 1866. In April 1869 Joshua was granted a pre-emptive lease on 150 acres of land in the Parish of Mongarlowe.

Joshua's wife Pamela Davis died at Little River in 1871 aged 66, while Joshua died at "Brookvale" in 1888, aged 87. They are buried together in the Braidwood cemetery not far from the entrance gate.

< Rediscovering Ginninderra