Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel, St Issells parish

Of all the non-conformist chapels shown on this map, the one with the best archive available to researchers is that for the Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel in St Issells parish. The chapel was part of the Pembroke Dock Primitive Methodist Circuit which covered several stations throughout the southern part of the county. Circuit baptism registers have survived and these cover much of Kingsmoor Chapel’s existence. The circuit minutes and various other documents are available too. What is missing are registers for the first twenty years or so of the chapel’s life (from the late 1820s) together with anything covering marriages and burials. This is unfortunate because there was an extensive burial ground in use around the chapel although whether it was fully utilised is open to conjecture.

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel - picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel – picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

This rich archive attracted Dr David Howell, an historian with local roots, to write an assessment of the circuit’s history which, for anyone with ancestry in the Saundersfoot area in the Victorian period, is worth reading.Ref 1 He raises three points I will explore in more depth in this post. Firstly, Howell discusses the vicissitudes the chapels faced, particularly during the national economic stagnation of the 1870s and 1880s, together with the consequent waves of emigration that hit membership and therefore funds. Table One illustrates this problem: three of the 1868 trustees emigrated, two with large families to Australia (John & Thomas Waters) and one to the south Wales coalfield (David John). But what is also pertinent is that many of John Phillips’ children moved to Glamorgan and those of William Phillips have evaded detection in the census from 1871 onwards. Later newspaper reports confirm that two of them lived in the US, a point that chimes with the note in the circuit minutes that 25 members of the circuit left for the US in the summer of 1871 ‘owing to the Kingsmoor coalmasters ceasing to work their pits’. The chapel lost much of its ‘next’ generation.

Another point that stands out in Howell’s article is that the Primitive Methodists consisted of and, importantly, were run by a mostly working class membership. The registers bear this out as does the following trustees’ list. (The term ‘engineer’ here typically refers to a man working with a pumping engine at the local pits rather than the modern associations of professional qualifications). In contrast the churchwardens of Begelly church were mainly farmers of more than 50 acres.

Trustees at 31 July 1868

Alexander Waters Thomas Chapel Engineer
John Waters Begelly Engineer
Thomas Walters (sic) Kingsmoor Engineer
David John Stepaside Manager at Iron works
William Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
John Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer

New trustees at 6 June 1896

John Roblin Norland House Joiner & builder
John Harries Brinn Alma Cottage, Kilgetty Engineer
George Brinn Kilgetty Engineer
Thomas Jenkins Hill Miner
Richard Lewis Kilgetty Miner
William Hilling Pentlepoir Miner
James John Fold Park Miner
Richard Thomas Hill Carpenter
William Thomas Hill Fireman

Notes on former trustees

Thomas Walters Kilgetty Engineer (Australia)
David John Pontycymmer, Bridgend Engineer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer (buried Sardis)

Table One: trustees of Kingsmoor Chapel in 1868 & 1896 Ref 2

Lastly, Howell describes the low membership numbers of the chapels on the circuit. In a small chapel with around 40 members it is not surprising then that certain families were cornerstones of chapel life. The Brinn family appears to have been at the heart of matters in the late 1800s. Brothers George and John Harries Brinn became trustees in 1896 as did their future brother-in-law, James John. In 1909 this same John Harries received a silver-mounted walking stick with ‘JHB’ engraved to mark his 35 years as choir conductor. He had also been a preacher on the circuit for 35 years, superintendent of the Sunday School for 30 and found time to be the treasurer both of the trust fund and the Band of Hope. He retired in 1915 as the railway engine driver for presumably Bonvilles Court Coal Co Ltd, the break, according to the local newspaper, being his first in 41 years.Ref 3

Unfortunately John Harries Brinn was also at the heart of some gossip that spread far beyond the parish pump. In 1883 national newspapers recorded that:

“Rev John Higley, Primitive Methodist Minster and singleman…eloped with the wife of Mr John Brinn, local preacher of the same denomination. Higley lodged with Brinn and on Wednesday, the runaways left for Carmarthen, Mrs Brinn taking her only child and a sewing machine. She left a letter for her husband stating that he need not inquire after her as she would not trouble him again.” Ref 4

By the 1891 census, husband and wife had been reunited. Of course we don’t know the full story but, even so, his death in the Cardiff Workhouse in 1920 attracts more than the usual sadness.

Small though membership was there are still close to 240 local baptisms recorded in the first circuit baptism register. This is an important resource for family historians so I have attached extracts from this register together with a list of burials conducted by Primitive Methodist ministers from the St Issells Burial Board Register as well as a few marriages I came across in the Narberth Weekly newspaper. If you find something of interest in these or have anything to amend or add, particularly marriages, please do let me know by posting a note here or contacting me on snorbensblog@aol.com

Click on the following link to download the extracts (opens in MS Excel or compatible spreadsheet)

Kingsmoor Chapel baptisms & sundry marriages & burials data

References

1. D. Howell, “Primitive Methodism in Pembrokeshire: the chapel in a rural society”, The Pembrokeshire Historian, vol.7 (1981) pp.52-60

2. Pembrokeshire Record Office, DFC/M/8/88

3. Narberth Weekly newspaper, 25 March 1915

4. Lloyds Weekly newspaper, 11 March 1883

Who links Saundersfoot to the Nobel Peace Prize?

The answer is the Rev. William Evans Darby, nominated for the Prize in seven out of thirteen years between 1901 and 1913 for his work as secretary to the Peace Society.

William Evans Darby with the National Memorial for Arrest of Armaments with over 100,000 signatures (Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Peace Society Records)

William Evans Darby with the National Memorial for Arrest of Armaments with over 100,000 signatures (Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Peace Society Records)

Born in Laugharne in Carmarthenshire in 1844, his parents soon moved to Saundersfoot where William spent his formative years. Apparently the family descended from Anglo-Irish stock with an estate based around Leap Castle in Co. Offaly. He had several illustrious members in his extended family. The writer of one of his obituaries claimed that William’s great-grandfather was Admiral Sir Henry D’Esterre Darby (friend of Lord Nelson), although the precise relationship is in some doubt. Another was John Nelson Darby, a key member of the non-conformist evangelical Plymouth Brethren in the mid-1800s. Yet another will be familiar to anyone who has studied English medieval history as William’s great-nephew, Prof. Sir H C Darby, was the author of the ground-breaking seven-volume geographical analysis of the Domesday Book first published in the 1950s.

On the one hand, it is therefore perhaps not surprising that William rose to the status he did. For 26 years from 1889, he was secretary of the Peace Society, an organisation formed by Quakers in 1816 for the “Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace” taking a leading role in setting the organisation’s strategy. He travelled widely in Europe and North America speaking at annual peace congresses and also published extensively on topics such as peace, international law and temperance.

On the other, however, irrespective of his family’s lineage, William’s success is surprising. His father, Evan, was one of several harbour pilots at Saundersfoot, a competitive business heavily dependant on the ‘boom or bust’ coal trade. According to his obituary writers, William’s family lived in the poverty that affected so many around the area. Narberth Poor Law Union documents confirm this: his father was a pauper in the 1870s. At one point the local community had to club together to pay for repairs to his vandalised sails.

William Evans Darby's gravestone at the City of London Cemetery, buried 13 November 1922

The inscription on Darby's gravestone remembers him as "An Apostle of Peace"

How did William rise from this? Like his contemporary, the Rev. James Thomas, education is the answer. Set to follow his father’s maritime career, his potential was spotted by a local teacher who ensured that William received good and prolonged schooling. Unfortunately, unlike Thomas, there is no record of which school he attended but it may have been at New Hedges (a mile south west from Saundersfoot) where he later taught.

William completed his formal education at the non-conformist theological college, New College, London, in the mid-1860s. Student records for this period are currently unavailable so it is not clear how William could afford this final step but he was later ordained into the Independent church becoming minister at various chapels in England between 1868 and 1889.

At the risk of being unduly critical it can’t be said that his professional life was wholly successful. He was declared bankrupt in 1885 following some ill-advised dabbling in local politics in Chippenham, Wiltshire. More importantly, the outbreak of war in 1914 shows that the Peace Society failed in its objectives, suffering much criticism from around 1900 for its passivity as Europe headed towards war. When William retired in 1915 the once-thriving society was effectively moribund. He was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Note

My thanks to Annette Harrison, a descendant of Evan Darby, for her help with this post.

Sources

Tenby Observer newspaper

Western Independent newspaper

Herald of Peace journal

Congregational Year Book, 1923

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Narberth Poor Law Union Abstracts (Cat ref. HDX/1026/1/15)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required)

The British Peace Movement, 1870-1914, Paul Laity, Clarendon, 2002

Opportunities

The next few posts on this blog will cover the biographies of various men (no women yet!) who left the Saundersfoot coalmining community for careers that had little or no relevance to their backgrounds. In the 1800s, this type of departure from mining was uncommon. What made these people take a different course from their peers? How did they achieve it?

My great-grandfather, Richard Nash, is an example of this. He grew up in a mining family in Begelly in the 1860s leaving the village around 1880 to become, amongst other roles, a captain in the Salvation Army, an evangelist and a brewer of temperance drinks. By comparison his four uncles moved from Begelly to the south Wales coalfield in the early 1870s but all remained miners. It is not clear whether he had any different opportunities than they did. The problem is that I don’t know what set him apart and this provides the reason why I won’t write a separate post about him.

Another example is the story of William Morris who left Stepaside to eventually become a director of a mining company in Australia. This post was provided by Joyce Phillips and I know from the number of hits and from email feedback how interesting readers found it.

If you would like to contribute something along these lines, do drop me a note to snorbensblog@aol.com

Thanks

Jon

Cholera Amid The Bunting

Tuesday 4th September 1866 should have been a red-letter day for south Pembrokeshire. The railway linking Saundersfoot, Tenby and Pembroke Dock to the national rail network opened with great celebration: a special service carried the great and the good from Pembroke Dock to Whitland, welcomed by crowds thronging the platforms at Saundersfoot and Kilgetty stations to catch sight of the first train. In all ways this was good news for the local mining community.

The same day an event occurred just over a mile away near Hean Castle which took the gloss off these celebrations. For much of the summer the dead hand of cholera had inexorably made its way across the country. The death of John Thomas at Sardis Mountain after twelve hours’ suffering confirmed it had arrived.

No doubt memories of the disease’s previous visits to Pembrokeshire were vivid. Major epidemics had struck Wales in 1832 and 1849, the second of which caused such anxiety that people flocked to church and chapel in large numbers. Writing nearly four years later Rev. Thomas Ashford, minister of the local Zion and Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist chapels, recalled these increased attendances.

“The inhabitants were aroused out of their spiritual slumber, our places of worship were thronged, drunkards became sober, swearers began to pray, and many who had been halting between two opinions then gave themselves to the Lord and to his people. Thirty-five hopeful members were added to the church at Begelly and ten at Bethesda.”

In 1866 local newspapers had been both reporting the disease’s progress from London and Liverpool towards Pembrokeshire during the summer and including official recommendations as to preventative measures. Following John Snow’s work in London during the 1854 outbreak, one of these was to sterilize spring and stream water used for drinking and cooking, a good remedy which may well have reduced the number of deaths if it had been applied widely. That it was not resulted in at least eleven local deaths (shown in the following table) and more than 275 cases in the coalfield stretching from Saundersfoot to Lawrenny, very roughly five percent of the population.

Known local deaths from cholera during 1866 epidemic

Name

Residence

Death or burial date (D or B)

Age

John Thomas Sardis Mountain

4 Sept (D)

43

William Nash Begelly

6 Sept (D)

57

Philip Gunter Temple Bar

10 Sept (D)

43

Elizabeth Williams Sardis Mountain

10 Sept (B)

46

Margaret Hughes Thomas Chapel

12 Sept (D)

56

Ann Callen Sardis Mountain

14 Sept (B)

73

Mary Gunter Temple Bar

14 Sept (D)

10

Ann Williams Sardis Mountain

17 Sept (B)

20

Ann James Griffithston Hill

20 Sept (B)

7

Mary Williams Sardis Mountain

26 Sept (B)

11

George James Griffithston Hill

26 Sept (B)

26

Three mining families were hit hard by the visitation; in particular the Callen family of Sardis Mountain as not only did Ann Callen (widow of Joseph Callen) die but also her daughter, son in law and two grand-children.

This list is unlikely to be complete as new cases emerged in October as well, although by the end of that month the worst was over. Its range had been local  with few cases north of Narberth and seemingly none in Tenby. Indeed the Tenby Observer newspaper failed to record the outbreak at all, perhaps more concerned to keep such worrying news away from late summer visitors to the resort.

Sources

Death certificates, Begelly and St Issells parish burial registers & St Issells Burial Board register

Calvinistic Methodist Recorder journal, March 1853, article by Thomas Ashford

Note (23 July 2011)

There’s an interesting article discussing the main cholera epidemics in the county in  the recently-published 2011 edition of the Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society (Number 20)

“Cholera in Pembrokeshire in the nineteenth century”, Dr Ray Jones

Copies available from the Pembroke Bookshop

Poverty Among The Farmers

I considered splitting this long post in two but opted to retain as one to maintain cohesion.

Picton Castle (Copyright Tudor Williams licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence)

The general poverty of coalmining families in the Saundersfoot area in the 1700s and 1800s is well-known. What is less well-known are the problems faced by the local farmers. In parts of England and Wales farmers made good profits from the changes of the so-called “agricultural revolution”. This is certainly not the case in this part of Pembrokeshire, the following example of a group of farmers from around Thomas Chapel illustrating how precarious the business of farming was.

This table lists five farmers all of whom faced varying degrees of financial jeopardy during the 1810-65 period. At one time or another, they each farmed more than 30 acres as tenants of the Picton Castle estate (PCE) and, with this size of farm, could make a living from farming alone rather than needing to have a second occupation.

Farmer

Acreage (approx)

Evidence of financial problems

George Hughes

3

He died in the Narberth workhouse in 1847; had farmed abt. 30 acres up to 1816 but then ran into financial problems
Sarah Phillips

38

She farmed at Bramble Hill; by 1849, she was twelve months in arrears on her rent; distress levied by PCE on her goods and in receipt of relief as a pauper through the 1870s
Sarah Hughes

38

Increasing arrears of rent owed to PCE from 1849; 18 months behind by 1851; died in poverty, documented in article in Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph
Morgan Hughes

55

Financial problems leading to bankruptcy in 1855; his problems are documented in a previous post
Richard Morgan

40

Bankruptcy, 1863

What was the cause of the problems? The answer is not clear. Farming is and always has been a precarious business with Nature, through disease, drought and fire, often making the difference between success and failure. But local farmers faced man-made problems as well, some of which they could control and others they could not.

National problems

Map showing farms around Thomas Chapel which experienced financial problems c.1840-63 (Begelly tithe map reproduced courtesy of Pembrokeshire Record Office, HDX/1210/1)

The period covered by the Napoleonic Wars represented a boom time for farmers with foodstuffs in short supply due to a run of poor harvests and difficulties obtaining imports. Welsh landlords took advantage of this, some rents more than doubling. In Pembrokeshire the PCE increased its rents by about 77 percent between 1790 and 1820 and George Hughes was a possible victim of this.** William Ormond was Hughes’ predecessor paying 8 shillings an acre in the early 1790s and then 18s from 1799 by which time he was already behind on his rent. With this indicator that the rent was already too high, Hughes took over the farm in 1800 but signed a new lease in 1808 at 22s. It may be no coincidence that he gave up this lease around 1817 shortly after the economic bubble burst, possibly unable to pay his way. David Thomas of Ramshorn farm took over from Hughes but at just the 18s an acre that Ormond had originally agreed in 1799.***

The period from around 1815 to the mid-1840s was punctuated by several economic downturns. Around 1822 for example, many of the local land agents reported to the proprietors the difficulty they found collecting rents. Unfortunately the PCE rentals do not survive for this period so it is impossible to assess how bad the problem was around Thomas Chapel. The rentals do survive to illustrate the problems around 1840, the period of the Rebecca Riots. By 1843, for example, Sarah Phillips of Bramble Hill and Richard Morgan were a year behind on their respective rents.

Regional problems

Contemporaries often noted that west Wales farmers lacked the capital required to make a success of their farms. With storage either poor or non-existent they sold grain at low prices after harvest only to have to re-purchase during the winter months at a high price. Farmhouses too were poor: in 1827 John Francis, tenant of Churchlands farm at nearby Reynalton, was living with his family in an outhouse as he did not have sufficient funds to build a new farmhouse. The supply of capital through banks in the area offered little salvation as they frequently came and went. George Hughes was a victim of the crash of the Narberth & Pembrokeshire Bank in 1826 committed to debtors’ gaol at Haverfordwest by the assignees in bankruptcy of one of the partners.

Local problems

In 1801 the vicar of Begelly, Rev John Williams, provided a pithy description of the main preoccupation of the farmers in his parish. They were

“…chiefly engaged in leading coal and culm to the shore; which they are bound to do by a covenant in their lease. Depending principally upon this business for their livelihood, they greatly neglect the cultivation of their farms.”

There is some evidence of increased activity in the coalfield in the mid-1820s with the work of the Tenby & Begelly Coal Co in the van which, if true, would have provided an Indian summer for the farmers’ carting business. But it did not last long. In 1833, the opening of the tramroad from Thomas Chapel colliery past the pits at Barley Park rendered this occupation largely obsolete.

Operation of the local mines caused another problem to farmers. Even on the comparatively small-scale in which the local mines operated, they left their mark on the landscape. An observer in 1806 noted that “…the whole country is defaced by the large coal slack heaps, many in almost every field and common…”. This must have caused problems to Sarah Hughes in particular. Thomas Chapel colliery was operating on her land from possibly as early as 1825 but definitely by 1838. When operations ceased there in 1854, a new shaft was sunk at New Hayes, also on her land. There is little evidence in PCE documents that she was granted any abatement in her rent to cover for the losses she suffered in the quality and amount of land she held.

For want of conclusive evidence any explanation of what caused this flurry of financial problems around Thomas Chapel remains conjecture. The general vicissitudes of farming in the first 40 years of the 19th century established a tough environment for farmers to succeed in. Regional issues such as lack of capital exacerbated these problems. What remains unclear however is to what extent the local coal industry effected the farmers. For example, how much revenue they lost from the tramroad replacing any carting business is unfortunately hidden from our view. Whatever happened, it is clear that the local farmers, like the coalmining families, often shared similar doubts about where their next shilling was coming from.

Notes

** Howells pg 9

*** It cannot be said with certainty that Ormond, Hughes and Thomas farmed the same amount of land but, judging from the available primary sources, it is more than likely.

Sources

Primary

The National Archives, Parish Acreage Returns 1801 (HO 67/22)

National Library of Wales, Picton Castle estate rentals and leases

Pembrokeshire Record Office (PRO), Debtors’ gaol records (PQ/AG/8)

PRO, Harcourt Powell estate papers (D/POW/H/191)

London Gazette (on-line)

Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph

Narberth, Whitland & Clynderwen Weekly News

Secondary

Pembrokeshire County History vol. IV, Modern Pembrokeshire, 1815-1974, David W Howell (ed.), Pembrokeshire Historical Society, 1993

Industrial Saundersfoot, Martin Connop Price, Gomer Press, 1982

Land and People in Nineteenth-century Wales, David W Howell, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977

Aerial view of Thomas Chapel today showing some  change in the landscape (such as new housing on Broom Lane) from the above tithe map. The spoil tips have of course been removed.

Poor Law Records (Part One)

In such a poor area as Saundersfoot the Poor Law system played an important role in keeping many out of destitution. This two-part post assesses the surviving Poor Law records to see what value they have for both family and local historians.

The history of the Poor Law can be split in two: firstly, from about 1600 until the mid-1830s, each civil parish was required by statute to raise funds to support its own poor. Records for our area for this first phase are scant: only the Overseers’ Accounts for East Williamston for 1781-1807 & 1826-27 have survived but these are largely illegible due to damp and also incomplete.

From 1834 onwards the system changed to a union of parishes run by a board of elected guardians. The local union was based at Narberth and covered 46 parishes surrounding the town with the new workhouse, completed in 1839, on the road south from Narberth to Begelly. Several sets of records have survived and this first post looks at the most detailed of these, namely the “Abstract and List of Paupers” published by the Union twice a year. Fifteen copies are extant out of a possible run of 21 for the years 1872-1881. The following breakdown shows some of the interesting data contained in the abstracts:

1. All those paupers receiving “outdoor” relief either in kind or by money showing age and address of recipient, reason for relief. Names are listed by parish.

Several of my ancestors appear:

  • Susanna Nash (my gggg-gmother), aged 83 of Thomas Chapel, received £1 13s due to old age. This payment lasted for 11 weeks at 3s a week in 1871
  • The sum of £1 1s was paid by the Union towards the cost of Frances Nash’s funeral (my g-gfather’s sister) in 1881

2. All those paupers receiving “indoor” relief in the workhouse showing age, the number of days in the workhouse and the parish covering the cost.

  • William Nash (aged 10) and his brothers John (8) and Isaac (7), all of Begelly and cousins of my g-gfather, each spent 236 days in the workhouse in 1878. (Their widowed mother was in Carmarthen gaol at the time)

3. All those paupers in the Joint Lunatic Asylum at Carmarthen including the name of the parish covering the cost of their stay.

  • John Belt, aged 23 of Small Drink, Begelly, was in the workhouse in late 1878 but by 1881 he had been moved to the Asylum

This is rich information for family historians.

For local historians the period covered by these abstracts is of significant interest as well. Throughout the 1870s the history of local mining was punctuated by several lengthy stoppages. If these were due to strike action, the Union was under no obligation to offer relief but with little money in the local economy there were many others who suffered as well. Together with other sources, the data in the abstracts can be used to assess the response of the Union to these calamities.

Notes

My thanks to Gerry Brawn for pointing this source out to me.

I have copies of the abstracts for the parishes of Begelly & East Williamston, Reynalton and St Issells. If you have labourers, miners and widows amongst your ancestors living in these parishes at the time but you can’t get to the Record Office, leave a Comment on this post or email me at snorbensblog@aol.com and I will check the lists for you.

Sources

Pembrokeshire Record Office, The Narberth Union Abstract and List of Paupers (cat ref HDX/1026/1/x)

Pembrokeshire Record Office, East Williamston Overseers’ Accounts (cat ref HPR/110/13 & 14)

From Stepaside to Queensland

I wish to thank Joyce Phillips, grand-daughter of William Morris, for writing this piece for the blog.

William Morris was born at Lower Level in Stepaside, St Issells, on 21 December 1852. His would not have been an auspicious birth. His mother Mary Morris was unmarried and no father’s name was given on his birth certificate. Mary was the daughter of William Morris and his wife Ann (née Evans) who lived at Lower Level. By the time of William’s birth his grandfather, a blacksmith, had died and in the 1861 census William was living with his grandmother and two collier uncles. In 1860 his mother had married and was living in Kent but whether she had been involved at all in her son’s early life is unknown.

William’s formal education was probably limited and irregular as it was for so many children of the time. Sometimes a woman with a little education would open a ‘school’ in the room of her home and, for a small cost, teach basic literacy. One such woman was Rachel Hodge (née Allen) who ran a ‘school’ in Pleasant Valley. It is very likely though that William was largely self-taught. His daughter Minnie once remarked that he didn’t have much schooling but he had a good brain.

William Morris with his first wife Matilda and their daughter Laura

About the age of 12 William first went down a mine. As mining in Pembrokeshire declined William was ‘up off’ to the flourishing mines of south-east Wales, to Tredegar in the Sirhowy Valley. He worked there in a mine employing 500 workers and by 1887 he had risen to the position of fireman and night overman (in charge of a mine district at night).

In 1881 William married Matilda Phillips, also a native of Stepaside, and a relative of his through the Evans family. In the next seven years she gave birth to four daughters, of whom only Laura survived early childhood.

Perhaps because of Matilda’s delicate health the couple decided in the late 1880s to leave Tredegar, and Wales, for a life in Queensland. Migration to Queensland was booming and they were booked as remittance passengers with part of their fare paid by the Queensland government.

Morris soon moved to Ipswich, about 40 kilometres from Brisbane, where he was employed by another Welshman, Lewis Thomas. Thomas had opened a coal mine, the Aberdare, in Blackstone near Ipswich in 1866 and over the next 20 years became the most successful mine proprietor on the Ipswich field. He was a generous employer, and his style of benevolent paternalism won him overwhelming support from ‘his men’, many of them also Welshmen. William was able to purchase a house with a loan from Thomas.

The early years in Queensland were troubled by Matilda’s ill health. Soon after their arrival a son was born but he too died in infancy. Then Matilda herself succumbed to tuberculosis and William now had to provide for his motherless daughter. He decided to ask his sister-in-law Sarah Phillips to come to Queensland and become his wife. She agreed and the marriage established a stable home life for Laura and the four children who were born to the couple.

Rhondda pit, Queensland c. 1905. Click to enlarge

The 1880s were a boom time in the mining industry but by 1893 profits had declined to such an extent that Thomas decided to close his mine. Understandably the men were most concerned so his alternative was to suggest that he lease the mine to the miners to be worked as a co-operative. Hence in 1894 the Aberdare Co-operative Colliery Limited was formed with 12 of the miners, including Morris, forming a Board of Directors.

For a number of reasons the Aberdare Co-operative was never really successful and by 1900 Morris and four other miners were concerned about the long-term future of the venture. They then took the big decision to open their own mine. In this decision they were following a long line of men, men with limited capital, who believed that with hard work they could make a success of such a venture. Many who had tried had failed but a few like Thomas were successful and these were the men whom the partners hoped to emulate.

Ipswich, Queensland, Australia (Copyright Ipswich City Council) Click to enlarge

The five men leased land in Blackstone and called their mine the Rhondda Colliery. Morris held the position of business manager and over the next few years, with the advent of more shareholders who provided capital for expansion, the mine did well. The Rhondda Colliery Ltd eventually became one of the most prosperous mining operations on the Ipswich coalfield.

Unfortunately William died in 1917, 16 years after the opening of Rhondda. Although the most profitable days for the mine would come later he had the satisfaction of seeing his own mine well established, his wife well provided for, and his own family enjoying better opportunities than the young William of Stepaside could ever have imagined.

Notes

If you wish to contact Joyce privately concerning this post, drop me an email to the address shown on the “About this Blog” page and I will forward it to her. Alternatively post a comment here.

Sources

‘William Morris and Rhondda’, Joyce Phillips, self-published (Australia), 2005