A Fatal Wrestling Match

Greta CourtHouse

Greta Court House credit: Google Maps

The man John Rylatt, who was injured at Greta last Saturday in a wrestling bout, died in Maitland Hospital yesterday… Rylatt was 31 years of age, and leaves a wife and two children.
– Singleton Argus, 24 Dec 1898

It seems unfair to post a picture of the old Greta Court House as the main picture to a person’s blog post … in this case it seemed fitting. Almost every newspaper article featuring John Rylatt mentions a session in court. In direct contrast to his father, Alderman John Rylatt – the comparison is not favourable when their names appear intermixed in a list of articles in Trove.

To me, John never really stood a chance. He was the corespondent in the divorce proceedings between my 2x great grandparents – never the hero of the story … always the rascal.

John Rylatt was born to John and Isabella Rylatt in Durham approx 1867. The family travelled to NSW aboard the “Earl Dalhousie” and arrived in 1877 when John was ten year of age. The family appear to have travelled directly to the Hunter Valley and settles in Greta where John’s sister, Mary, was born the following year. Isabella continued to have children every 2-3 years until 1894.

1894 is about the same time that John met Ellen Scarlett. Ellen was married to Henry Scarlett however, he had left Ellen to pursue work in Wollongong and later Queensland (possibly due to the tensions between the miners and mine owners and the hopes of the goldfields). While Henry was away, Ellen gave birth to a daughter. By 1897, Henry had filed for divorce having found Ellen cohabiting with John.

During the 1890’s, John was a miner working in the Greta mines – I assume the Anvil Creek mines as there is a record in the NSW Gazette showing a John Rylatt living at Anvil Creek (though this could be his father). This period was also the time of the Great Strikes and the 1890’s depression.

On 23 January, 1894 the following two excerpts were published in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate giving details of the arguments on both sides of the conflict in Greta:

Greta Miners 1

and a few paragraphs later,

Greta Miners 2

Twelve months later, the condition of the miners was described in the Maitland Daily Mercury:

Maitland Daily Mercury 21 Feb 1895

Maitland Daily Mercury, 21 Feb 1895

Times were tough in Greta during this time. There was civil unrest in the form of strikes, conflicts between union and non-union workers and assaults on individuals. During this time, John appears before the courts for drunken behaviour, obscene language and leaving his horse to wander in the street – he was convicted of all of these several times between the years 1892 – 1898 and each time incurred a fine.

By the time of his death, he was likely unemployed (possibly due to his father’s sympathy’s with the unions or even his own), with four children and a wife dependent on his income. (Although the article at the beginning states he has two children, it is to be assumed that Ellen’s children, born during her marriage to Henry, were also living with them).

The manner of his death sums up his personality for me … he was reckless, careless and not entirely responsible, in my opinion. He may have been a better man in better times.

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