Elliott Family of Segenhoe/Buttai
Gratefully acknowledge: ‘Dawn in the Valley’ by W Allan Wood. Wentworth Books 1972 Sydney
ISBN 0 85587 027 3
As a voluntary migrant myself I’m greatly inspired and genuinely in awe of the Elliott family of 1825. We do share a few elements in common. John Elliott was a native of Rothbury, Northumberland, England. I was born a mere 6 miles from the same Rothbury in a tiny hamlet called Hepple. Rothbury was our closest market (‘shopping’) centre. I’m intimately familiar with all the iconic totems cited in John Elliott’s early life. Even the steppingstones across the River Coquet near to the old Rothbury Sale Yards where Dad sold our sheep and cattle.
Featured Image: ‘A settler’s home, N.S.W.’, by Auchmuty Library UON. It may be that this image depicts the lifestyle (and challenges) faced by the Elliott family following their relocation to Buttai but is NOT a photograph of the Elliott family?
See also UPDATED NOTES below.
Elliott Family at Buttai
The early married life of both John Elliott and Martha Sadler/Sadleir) is mired in controversy. It could justifiably be defined as ‘love conquers all’.
John Elliott was born in 1790 near the famed steppingstones of the little river Coquet at Rothbury. His father William Elliott was the miller at nearby Thrum Mill. John’s mother before marriage was Mary Robson which is a prominent Northumbrian surname.
Martha first met John when he was taken by her brother to her father’s house at Carlisle, Cumberland. John was apparently friends with Martha’s brothers who had their horses shod by him. The visits continued until Martha’s father learned that his daughter had developed a personal interest in a man who was ‘merely a blacksmith’. In caste conscious England this was an unacceptable proposition for a family with aristocratic pretensions. John was forbidden from the house but Martha, being of age, ran away and eloped. John Elliott and Martha Sadler/Sadleir were married at Newcastle-on-Tyne All Saints Church on 15 February 1824. Records at the time state the marriage took place in the chapel, a significantly smaller venue than the Church. It implies a small attendance with a church officer acting as one of the witnesses. There is no record of any of the Elliot family being present. Mary was heavily pregnant at the time and may even have had the child at the wedding.
Their first child Margaret Elliott was baptised at Alnwick, Northumberland on April 24, 1824. (Some accounts state the marriage took place a year earlier on 14 February 1823, which would make the birth date more ‘acceptable’). Martha was disinherited and never forgiven by her father, a direct descendent of Sir Ralph Sadleir, Knight Banneret to Henry VIII, liquidator of monasteries and gaoler of Mary Queen of Scots.
Not long after Margaret’s birth (15/02/1924) at Newcastle-on-Tyne, Thomas Potter Macqueen began organizing his expedition to NSW to take possession of ‘Segenhoe’, NSW. This was fortuitous for Joan and Martha. John had been officially ‘blacklisted’ in Great Britain by the political intervention of his father-in-law. This meant that he was unable to access official employment and find a job. As a result, John, Martha, and newborn child Margaret joined the venture. By any measures this was an extremely brave, adventurous, and bold decision.
Thomas Potter Macqueen had purchased the Hugh Crawford of 420 tons, an American built privateer reputed to be one of the fastest sailors in the world, to transport people, stock, equipment and stores to a promised land grant of 20,000 acres in New South Wales. The Hugh Crawford sailed from Gravesend in early November 1824, sheltering at Tor Bay, Devon and leaving there on 11 December 1824. On 7 April 1825 the Sydney newspapers reported the ship’s arrival from England on Sunday 3 April 1825. This was reportedly the first true emigrant ship to make the journey as earlier emigrants were required to travel as passengers on convict ships. The ship carried in addition to its passengers many Merino sheep, some acquired by early entrepreneur Richard Jones.
Among cabin passengers on the Hugh Crawford were Lieut. F B Gibbs RN and Dr James Macintyre. Passengers connected with Macqueen’s venture were Peter Macintyre (agent), his brother John Macintyre, another John Macintyre (bookkeeper), Alexander Campbell, Donald McLaughlin (overseer), Andrew Livingstone (overseer) and his wife, John Elliott (blacksmith) and his wife Martha plus child (Margaret), Joseph Anderson (carpenter) with his wife and two children, plus John Portus (millwright) and his wife.
Thomas Potter Macqueen had appointed Peter Macintyre as his agent on the recommendations of his former employer Lord Gwydir and of NSW Governor General Lachlan Macquarie. It was not until 3 September 1825 that Peter Macintyre was able to ship Macqueen’s equipment and allocated employees from Port Jackson to the Hunter’s River (Newcastle). The passengers and goods were loaded into sailing boats for transhipment to Wallis Plains (Maitland). It was a journey of only 20 miles as the cockatoos fly but allowing for convolutions in the river it amounted to c. 70 miles by boat.
The indentured free men, the women, the little children and the assigned servants comprised he largest party to leave Wallis Plains for the upper districts in 1825. Maria Livingstone, Ann Anderson and Martha Elliott were (almost) the first white women to go to the Upper Hunter preceded only by Mrs Justine Pike, wife of Captain John Pike, her stepdaughter Mary Elizabeth Pike and an accompanying convict woman. The children in the party for Segenhoe were Adam Anderson, aged 3, Jane Anderson a baby and Margaret Elliott nearly 1½. The only Livingstone daughter remained in England and Scotland for a few years before re-joining her parents in NSW.
The slow and difficult journey with bullock drays first led from cleared country through cedar brush, hardwood trees and open forest on unlevelled and bridgeless tracks. The standard women’s dress of the day must have been a major impediment in the muddy travail. Eventually the Segenhoe party came down safely from the hills to Twickenham Meadows (confluence of Goulburn and Hunter Rivers) thence to the location of the future town of Muswellbrook. The party forded the river at the place afterwards named Aberdeen and at last entered the beautiful valley of Segenhoe.
Martha maintained a haven of charity and gentle dignity in a hut for seven years. Here three of her babies were born and baptised before 1829, and here the elder two commenced their education at her knee. Free emigrants, like convicts, were of varying backgrounds and dispositions. Martha Elliott’s disposition and her reasons for abandoning security and comfort for a rough and dangerous life in the Colony are transparently clear. Only her unquenchable courage and determination are astounding.
Martha Elliott remained at Old Segenhoe for a longer period than any other woman, and her stories of her almost seven years’ residence did not recall any of the splendour which is romantically associated with the estate. Many stories survived among her children but are now almost forgotten.
Martha Elliott delighted in the Kamilaroi people and their simplicity towards those in whom they placed their trust. She carried this tradition with her through her later life and was well known for her compassion, healing prowess and empathy.
In addition to blacksmithing John Elliott also acted as a mounted courier, riding at times on the business of the estate as far as Wallis Plains (Maitland). There were difficult and dangerous times, On one occasion John was warned by a friendly Aboriginal to avoid a certain pathway. An angry mob had assembled to apprehend a man they believed to be John Macintyre who had a price on his head. John was able to avoid catastrophe thanks to the early warning by the loyal local.
John was similarly forewarned and forearmed on other occasions when apprehended (‘bailed up’) by bushrangers and ne’er do wells. He was taught a secret whistle signal, “White Boys of the Wicklow Mountains”, by a convict at Segenhoe. This was a passport among the wild coteries.
In preparation for their departure from Segenhoe John Elliott applied for a female convict servant for his wife Martha. In June 1832 a housemaid Catherine was assigned to the Elliott family. In that year Margaret became 8, William 6 and Mary Ann 3. Martha had commenced their education and perhaps taught the children on the estate. She continued with the tradition when mistress of her own home at ‘Wyabah’. The Elliotts left Segenhoe in June 1832 and arrived at Maitland in July. John was responsible for the construction of Sempill’s Steam Engine and Flour Mill. According to tradition John had been an engineer in Edinburgh before becoming a miller and blacksmith. John Elliott was already well known at Alcorn’s Inn as a rider for the Segenhoe Mail. He established a very proud record of achievement in the Maitland (Wallis Plains) District. He was well remembered for his ingenuity with his hand-wrought contrivances including the “Iron Man”.
John later diversified into a farming venture with 30 acres of land he acquired from the estate of Joseph Weller. Here he grew wheat and corn to feed the millstones in Sempill Street.
Interview by Yvonne Wardell (nee Pacey) in 1989 with Diane Parnell about the early settlers of Buttai in the Hunter Valley. Diane was born at Glen Innes and is a descendant of John and Martha Elliott early settlers of the upper Hunter. John and Martha came to NSW on the “Hugh Crawford” in 1824. John worked as a Shoe smith at Segenhoe, later he went to Maitland where he made the first steam engine for Semphills’ Flour Mill. Martha was well liked by local Aboriginals, she had twelve children and educated them along with neighbouring children. She was also a midwife, as were her daughters who followed in their mothers’ footsteps. The Elliotts moved to Wyabah later named “The Meadows” between Tarro and Minmi, however later moved to Buttai because this is where their stock would often venture to find fresh water. The Elliott’s grazed stock and had orchards, later generation worked mostly in the coal mines, and Diane remembers well the area of Buttai and Buchanan during the 1930s. She also describes the family cemetery on the family property, in an area named “Kangaroo Hill or Lemon Tree Hill”. Dianne talks about the various schools, changing population and the families that lived in the area.
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Children of John & Martha Elliott
- Margaret Elliott (1824 – 1896) b. Newcastle on Tyne
- William Elliott (1826 – 1890) b. Segenhoe 1 March, NSW; almost certainly the first white child born in the valley of the Upper Hunter. Baptised by Rev G A Middleton @ Segenhoe on 25 June 1826
- Mary Ann Elliott (1827 – 1900) b. Segenhoe, NSW. Baptised by Rev M D Meares on 4 July 1827
- Elizabeth Elliott (1828 – 1908) b. Segenhoe 3 July NSW. Baptised @ Segenhoe by Archdeacon Scott on 22 November 1828
- Isabella Elliott (1830 – 1915) b. Segenhoe, NSW. Baptised by Archdeacon Broughton on 28 January 1831
- John Elliott (1832 – 1872) b. Segenhoe (or Maitland, NSW)
- Eleanor Elliott (1834 – 1905) b. in the colony, NSW
- Martha Elliott (1836 – 1907) b. in the colony, NSW
- Edward Elliott (1838 – 1903) b. in the colony, NSW
- George Elliott (1839 – 1918) b. in the colony, NSW
- Wilfred Elliott (1841 – 1913) b. in the colony, NSW
- Ann “Annie” Elliott (1844 – 1902) b. in the colony, NSW
Updated Notes (16/04/2023)
Using ‘modern’ advanced ancestry techniques, a dedicated and assiduous family member (JM) has recently followed up the genealogy of John & Martha Elliott and uncovered some revealing facts. It seems that Martha Sadler/Elliott was not a descendent of the aristocratic Sadleirs of Carlisle but herself a local of the Rothbury/Alnwick coterie. Her father may indeed have been a saddler which would fit with the Elliott/Blacksmith cadre. It was not unusual for aspiring people to claim noble or titled lineage to improve their profile. Her father William was Sadler by name and Saddler by profession – could a Saddler have John Elliott blacklisted? Martha’s gravestone at Buttai has a specific date and place of birth; namely born 1 June 1798, Northumberland, England.
Martha, along with at least nine siblings were baptised in Alnwick, Northumberland – no mention of Carlisle! John and Martha’s daughter Margaret was baptised at the same church in Alnwick as Martha and her siblings – her father may have been upset about the marriage and early birth, but John and Martha went back to the “family home” to have Margaret baptised.
Two John Elliotts fitted the work/trade description of the original. None of this diminishes my admiration and respect for whoever the real John & Mary Elliott may have been. I only wish I had their resolve and determination.
Interview by Yvonne Wardell (nee Pacey) in 1989 with Diane Parnell about the early settlers of Buttai in the Hunter Valley. Diane was born at Glen Innes and is a descendant of John and Martha Elliott early settlers of the upper Hunter. John and Martha came to NSW on the “Hugh Crawford” in 1824. John worked as a Shoesmith at Segenhoe, later he went to Maitland where he made the first steam engine for Semphills Flour Mill. Martha was well liked by local Aboriginals, she had twelve children and educated them along with neighbouring children. She was also a midwife, as were her daughters who followed in their mothers’ footsteps. The Elliotts moved to Wyabah later named “The Meadows” between Tarro and Minmi, however later moved to Buttai because this is where their stock would often venture to find fresh water.
The Elliott’s grazed stock and had orchards, later generation worked mostly in the coal mines, and Diane remembers well the area of Buttai and Buchanan during the 1930s. She also describes the family cemetery on the family property, in an area named “Kangaroo Hill or Lemon Tree Hill”. Dianne talks about the various schools, changing population and the families that lived in the area.
Person Diane Parnell
Interview log 1989 A6971(iii)_Parnell Collection
Margaret Henry Oral History Archive