The Wandering Miner

As someone who has spent a good portion of her life moving, I’m always interested in those ancestors I find who also had a nomadic type lifestyle. Since in every line, there is at least one group who moved out to Australia, I come across quite a few. My great great grandfather, Henry George Scarlett is one of them.

I’ve mentioned Henry before in passing in my posts Searching for Catherine 1 and 2. Henry has fascinated me for years. I have been wanting to write about him but have been waiting to feel a sense of who he is. The characters that surround begin to gain some flesh, some personality but not Harry. He is always illusive, always one step away from me. Not wanting to be known. That’s my impression at least.

Henry’s was born in Durham, England to a father who was a miner. His adult life seems to mimic his childhood as his family was always moving and seeking work. He was born in 1857 in Shincliffe, Durham to William Scarlett and his wife, Isabella (nee Brown). He was the third of eight children.

It is hard to say if Henry was actually born in Shincliffe or that is where his father was working at the time. Many of the villagers of Shincliffe worked at the Houghall Mine or the Shincliffe Colliery. In the 1851 Census the family is living in Sunderland Rd in the Parish of St Giles, Durham. In the 1861 Census, the family is in New Elvet Durham. This census also states that William, the second child, who was born in 1853, was born in Seaton Carew. Already we have a nomadic family. A family, who in the space of ten years, have four different addresses. Not so strange for my life nor Henry’s it seems.

By 1871, the family has changed quite a bit and moved around some more. In 1870, Henry’s mother, Isabella, died. Isabella died in Cornforth in 1870 from a pulmonary condition according to her death certificate.  In addition to George, William, Henry and Mary there are three more daughters: Isabella, Sarah and Elizabeth. George, William and Henry (aged 20, 18 and 14) are all working as miners at the Page Bank Colliery. Once again the family has moved in the ten year period. The family moved from St Giles, to Perkinsville to East Rainton to Page Bank to Cornforth and back to Page Bank.

Until 1872, miners were employed under a system where they were bonded to their employer for a period of one year or at times monthly. At the end of their bond, there was the possibility that they would be employed for another year or they could try another mine where they may be offered more money. (For a more detailed explanation, go to This successfully explains the frequent movements of the Scarlett family during this period.

Henry arrived in Maryborough, Queensland in Aug 1882 aboard the Western Monarch. Prior to leaving England, he was living with his sister Mary and her husband, Thomas (1881 census). His younger sister, Elizabeth, was also living with them. By 1881, his brother, George was already in NSW (and sponsored Henry’s passage out as well as two of his sisters), and his sisters, Isabella and Sarah, were working as a domestic servants. I have yet to determine where their father was living or whether he was still alive at all. As the family had begun to splinter apart, it is likely he died.

Between 1882 and 1884, Henry was in Queensland. His brother George was in the Hunter Valley by 1884 as he married Alice Fuller in that year in Maitland. Alice was the sister of Henry’s first wife, Ellen. Henry’s divorce papers state that he had been living in NSW for thirteen years in 1897 so it is to be assumed he was in Greta from 1884.

In 1887, Henry married Ellen in West Maitland. Their son, George was born in 1890 in Greta. In the 1891 census, both Henry and Ellen are listed as living in Greta but a side note states that Henry is away working.

A daughter was born in 1894.

By 1897, Henry has applied for a divorce on the grounds of adultery. This was the information that I had for many years and the facts that I was familiar with. However, it niggled and niggled at me and I continued to pursue any leads I could. I found details in newspapers showing evidence of the divorce and its outcomes. Henry was granted his divorce. According to the papers he would have been granted custody of the children if he had have had employment and a home.

Fascinating, fascinating stuff. It seemed as if I had all the information. Yet I ordered a copy of the divorce proceedings anyway. And it only gets better and better. Well from a distance at any rate. To those personally involved it was probably quite traumatic.

It seems that Henry left Greta (I assume to find work) in or around 1891. According to the divorce proceedings he was gone for two years in Port Kembla. Ellen began an affair with John Rylett in 1893 and lived with him openly in Stockton. In the paperwork, Henry claims one child as his. George. It is likely that George never knew his father as Henry left Greta shortly after his birth. George’s sister was born in 1894 and is Rylett’s daughter although the information I was passed through the family stated her as Henry’s.

In the same year (1897) as Henry divorces Ellen (who is living in the Hunter Valley) from Port Kembla (in the Illawarra, where he has been living) he marries Catherine Baker (from Queensland) in Bendigo, Victoria. Obviously there are still some outstanding questions there. Like where and when he met Catherine. At some point he met Catherine, fell in love (?) and they agreed to move south to Ballarat and be married.

They also managed to have a child in Ballarat. A son, William Henry was born in 1900. The family (Henry, Catherine, their child William and Catherine’s children Samuel, Phoebe and Lillian) lived in Ballarat for at least three years before moving to Kalgoorlie where they were living in 1906. By 1916, Henry has left Kalgoorlie, leaving Catherine and her family behind him.

He’s found again in 1930 (fourteen years still to be accounted for). He is living in Moss Vale near Bowral, NSW. On 22 July 1930, an article appeared in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post with the headline “Found Dead: Old Age Pensioner Passes”. It reads: “An old Moss Vale resident, in the person of Harry Scarlett, who had lived with a private family in Argyle Street for some years, was found dead in an outhouse adjacent to the residence on Sunday morning. Deceased, who was an old age pensioner, was not well known in the town and had been in ill health for some time. The only relative he had in Australia was Mrs. E. Harridge, of Melbourne.”

His death certificate states that he died from a heart attack, that he had been ill for four years (can we assume he had been in Moss Vale for at least four years). The informant was Sarah Percival of Argyle St (I presume one of the family he was living with). His sister, Elizabeth, is noted as certifying the informant’s information and it is witnessed by his niece, Ada Waugh. He was buried in Moss Vale General Cemetery.

Interesting omissions from his death certificate are the details of his marriages. It was known he was married twice but no particulars are given. It also states that he had been in Australia for 50 years in NSW and Queensland. No mention of time spent in Victoria or WA. It is possible that he had outlived his siblings (except Elizabeth).

So what type of man was Henry? I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that he was a wanderer. A man who never settled anywhere for very long. It is tempting to view his life in a harsh light especially his leaving two families behind with no contact.

If only he’d left a diary.

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3 Responses to The Wandering Miner

  1. Louise says:

    Great story. My great great grandmother was Henry and George’s sister Mary Jane Scarlett who arrived in 1886 aboard the ‘Energia’ with her husband Thomas Waugh and children. Interesting to note that Thomas Waugh was a miner and Alderman of Greta Council in the 1890s. I wonder what he thought of the antics of Henry and Ellen.

  2. Christine Buck says:

    Hi I am a descendant of Isabella Brown’s Brother George. He came to Victoria in the 1850’s and ended up with a Gold Mine but died young in 1876. My great grandmother Isabella Brown must have been named after his sister Isabella. Would love to make contact with you.

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