The Steads at Gundaroo

The story of the Steads of Gundaroo has shaky origins, intriguing details and an unfortunate tragic ending. Before we can detail what we do know, we must first deal with what we do not.

John Henry Stead, born circa 1804, is the focus of this story. It appears that he was born in London, however many records confuse his birth place with that of one of his sons, John James, which appears to have been in a place called Sandwich, Canada…but we will come back to that. In 1828 he married Caroline Mabbott at Mt. Marylebone, London. Now things get a little blurry for a while. It seems John Henry was a popular name at the time, and there appear to have been many who made trips to and from the United States and England. A John Henry that matches the details of the one with which this story is concerned is recorded as arriving at the port of New York on the Elizabeth Frith on 21 December 1830. Wife Caroline is with him. It appears that the Stead family had some capital behind them and they are recorded as riding as ‘cabin passengers’. Riding ‘steerage’ was much more common, and cheaper, and meant families lived and slept in a large dormitory like space towards the rear of the ship. Cabin passengers had a much more private and comfortable ride. On the shipping records John Henry Stead’s occupation is recorded as ‘lace manufacturer’, perhaps this business was the reason for the trip and the wealth that the family appears to have had. A clipping from the London Gazette July 1 – Dec 30 1828, records the dissolving of a lace and fringe operation conducted by Messrs. Stead and Walker. Perhaps after the dissolving of this operation John Henry Stead decided to take his knowledge and skills to the United States.


The couple have three children while living in the United States; Tryphena Ann Stead in Philadelphia 1831, Emma Louise Stead in North Carolina 1834 and John James Stead in Sandwich, Canada in 1835. By 1837 the family had returned to England where their daughter, Emma Louise Stead was, in this year, baptised at St Olave in Exeter. The next year John Henry and Caroline would have another child, Richard, who died in infancy. Two more children were born to the couple here in 1839 and 1841. Although no shipping record has been found detailing the family’s immigration to Australia, in all likelihood they arrived on 29 July 1842 aboard the Arachne into Port Jackson from Plymouth. The Sydney Herald on that day announced the arrival of a Mr. and Mrs. Stead along with 5 children and a servant.

Stead Arachne

After arriving in Sydney the Stead family have been recorded as residing at ‘Fairfield’, Gundaroo, probably as tenant farmers. In 1843 John places an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald wanting to buy up to 2000 sheep and 100 heifers.

SteadwantsSheep Sydeny Morning Herald 26June1843

In 1845 another son is born to John and Caroline named Walter. In this same year the ‘Fairfield’ property is put to auction with an advertisement in the Sydney morning Herald putting it at ‘3130 acres’. A family member and researcher of the Stead family has suggested that the property was sold but the Steads either stayed on, or left the property and later returned to lease it off its new owners. In 1846 another son is born named Alfred.


In 1848 the Stead’s family story turns tragic. In late October, the region experienced a significant rainfall event and the Gundaroo Creek, which flowed past the ‘Fairfield’ estate was swollen. Two of the young Stead boys, Adolphus (7) and Walter (3) were crossing the river via a plank when Walter fell in. Adolphus ran to tell his father who jumped into the river in an attempt to find his son. Adolphus returned to the river with his mother and some men from the house, but both father and son were missing. Two hours later their bodies were recovered from the river, both had died. Understandably, this had  a terrible effect on the family and Caroline, who was heavily pregnant, went into premature labour, giving birth to the couples final child, Henry. Caroline was in a very critical state in the days following, but both mother and child survived.

It is here that the records again become misleading. Firstly, there does not appear to be a birth record for Walter Stead who was apparently born in 1845. On the record for the next child in line, Alfred, the mother is listed as Caroline, but the father as ‘John J’. John J was a son of Caroline’s but it is possible that the ‘J’ is a mistake and I am yet to sight the original certificate. Further confusion continues. When Henry was born prematurely, his mother is recorded as Caroline, but his father (who had just died) is recorded as William H. This record is at least consistent with the burial certificate which lists William Henry as having died on the 25 October with his son Walter at ‘Fairfield’. The coronial record uses the name we have become accustom to, John Henry Stead and son Walter. For some reason, John Henry has become William Henry, both names of which are attributed to having drowned on 25 October 1848 with son Walter. The press reports are unhelpful in that they mention only Mr. Stead. Perhaps John preferred William in his later years, perhaps it was his birth name but decided to give John to the record keepers until his last few years of life. Perhaps William Henry was another man entirely, but it is unlikely. Be it William or John, the man is said to have been buried at St Clements in Yass, although his resting place is not officially documented or marked.

Additional note: Caroline is immediately supported by a fundraising effort in the local community and goes on to remarry a John-Mogeni Johnson (who was a Collector publican at the time) and both are said to buried in Yass. Caroline and John’s eldest daughters, Tryphena Ann and Emma Louise marry local Wheatley brothers John and William. Emma Louise suffered an early death herself during the birth of a child, who fortunately survived.


Sources and links
The Sydney Herald (1842 July 29): Shipping Intelligence
The Sydney Morning Herald (1843, June 30): Cattle and Sheep Wanted
The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser (1848, November 4): Death at Gundaroo
The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser (1848, December 2): Stead gives thanks
London Gazette July 1 – Dec 30 1828: Part 2

Main people mentioned in this post:
John Henry Stead b.1804 d. 1848
Caroline Stead (nee Mabbott) b.1811 d.1855
Walter Stead b.1845 d.1848
Emma Louise Wheatley (nee Stead) b.1834 d.1856
John Wheatley b.1823 d.1916
Tryphena Ann Wheatley (nee Stead) b.1831 d.1885
William Wheatley b.1825 d.1893


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