TILLY, Onora (1773-1857)
Letter to Port Phillip pioneer Charles Parker Tilly from his mother in Falmouth, Cornwall. Dated 9 July, 1839.
[Entire letter]. Manuscript in ink written on 3 sides of a small quarto bifolium (230 x 185 mm); the outer side is addressed Mr. Charles Tilly, care of Messrs Welsh Eddy & Co. Merchants, Launceston, Van Diemen’s Land; the letter itself is headed Tremough, July 9th 1839, is addressed to My Beloved Children and is signed at the foot Your affectionate Mother O Tilly; the address panel on the outer side has the remains of a green wax seal, but there are no postal markings, as the letter was carried from Cornwall to Tasmania per favour by an unidentified party; original folds, clean and very well preserved, although the idiosyncratic handwriting and spelling is difficult to decipher in places.
This unpublished “letter from home” is an extremely early piece of inbound private correspondence relating to one of Port Phillip’s pioneer settlers. In his attempts to make his fortune as a farmer and grazier in Australia Felix, Charles Parker Tilly met with financial disaster – twice – and, going against the tide of gold rush immigration to Victoria in the 1850s, he would ultimately return with his wife and children to his family seat in Cornwall, with nothing to show financially for all his hard work in the Colony.
The present letter was written by Onora Tilly (note that her first name is often mispelled as Onoro on genealogical websites), of Tremough House in Penryn (Falmouth), Cornwall, to her son Charles Parker Tilly and daughter-in-law Emma, who had only recently arrived in Launceston from England, en route for a new life in the fledgling settlement in Port Phillip. They had brought with them their own servant.
From the shipping notices in the Launceston Advertiser, 6 June 1839:
‘The passengers by the Earl Stanhope, from London, are Charles Tilly, Esq., lady and servant; Mr. & Mrs. Fowler, and four children; Mr. Codd.’
The letter from Onora Tilly was carried per favour and is addressed to Charles to the care of Launceston shipping and forwarding agents Eddie, Welsh & Co.. It would probably have reached Launceston in late October 1839, which was, as it so happens, soon after the firm had been renamed Eddie & Co. (Welsh had by now removed to Port Phillip to set up his own business and to act as Eddie & Co.’s agent there, with the wool trade beginning to boom). There is no mark on the letter to indicate whether Charles received the letter while still in Launceston, or after he had gone across to Port Phillip.
Charles and Emma settled at Barunah Plains, situated 30 miles west of Geelong and 45 miles south of Ballarat, just east of Cressy. The area was known in these very early colonial days as Long Waterholes.
Charles is mentioned in a notice in the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, 30 May 1842: ‘Unclaimed Goods. THE following unclaimed packages are at the warehouse of the undersigned : — One box, addressed Charles Parker Tilly, ex Phantom, from Leith. … Hunter, Somervail & Co., May 26 1842’.
The following year, however, must have been a stressful one for Charles and Emma, as Charles became one of the many casualties of the economic depression in New South Wales (of which Port Phillip was still a part). Charles was declared bankrupt at the end of September 1843, after protracted insolvency proceedings that had commenced in April and dragged on for several months. In the same year, Charles and Emma celebrated the birth of their first child, Emma Symons Tilly.
Then came the economic recovery, and with it some respite and perhaps a period of prosperity for the Tillys. Charles was able to visit England early in 1846, and on the return voyage arranged to bring with him to Port Phillip a prize stallion, as well as pigs and dogs for breeding.
From the Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, 31 July 1846. ‘Emigration.— The Eleanor Lancaster, Lodge, master, bound to Port Phillip, entered Falmouth harbour on the 19th instant, to take on board Charles Tilly, Esq., of Tremough, near Penryn, who takes with him the horse named “Royal William;” four of the handsomest pigs ever exported from England, and two prime bull-dogs. The Eleanor Lancaster sailed for her destination on Saturday morning, and we heartily wish her a safe and prosperous voyage.— West Briton, February 27. [The pedigree of this horse will be found in our advertising columns]’.
By the time we next read about Charles in the press, however, he has fallen on hard times once again. On this occasion, in April 1853, we find him at a new residence – a farm at Campbellfield, just north of Melbourne. Here he and his family are forced to suffer the ignominy of witnessing their goods and chattels sold at public auction by order of the Sheriff of Port Phillip, in order to pay Charles’ debts.
From The Argus, 18 April 1853: ‘In the Supreme Court of the Colony of Victoria. Fieri Facias. Between Thomas Clark, Plaintiff, and Charles Parker Tilly, Defendant. NOTICE is hereby given, that the Sheriff for the Colony of Victoria, will cause to be sold by public competition, this day, Monday, the 18th day of April now, at the hour of twelve o’clock at noon, on the premises of the above named defendant, situated at Plas Newydd, near Campbellfield, on the Sydney Road, a quantity of household furniture, farming implements, poultry, cows, blacksmith’s tools, and sundries, unless this execution be previously satisfied. Dated the 13th day of April, A. D., 1853. Henry Addison, Sheriff’s Officer. Sheriff’s Office, Melbourne, 13th April, 1853.’
The Tillys remained in Melbourne at least until the birth of their fifth child, Emily Nora. But at some point in the mid 1850s – quite possibly after the death of his mother Onora in 1857, and with the prospect of an annuity – Charles took the decision to return to England with his family. In the UK census of 1861, we find the following information about Charles’ household in Falmouth:
‘Charles Parker Tilly,Head,M,49,,Annuitant (Gentleman X-Ed Out), Falmouth Cornwall,,
,,,Emma Tilly,Wife,M,,48,(Gentlewoman Crossed Out),Falmouth Cornwall,,
,,,Emma Symons Tilly,Dau,U,,18,,Australia Overseas Brit. Subj,,
,,,Tobias Harry Tilly,Son,U,14,,Scholar,Australia Overseas Brit. Subj,,
,,,John Burchett Tilly,Son,U,12,,Scholar,Australia Overseas Brit. Subj,,
,,,Charles Tilly,Son,U,10,,Scholar,Australia Overseas Brit. Subj,,
,,,Emily Nora Tilly,Dau,U,,7,Scholar,Australia Overseas Brit. Subj,,’
THE BACKGROUND OF THE TILLY FAMILY OF TREMOUGH HOUSE, PENRYN (FALMOUTH), CORNWALL
John Tilly (1775-1843) ‘was the eldest of six brothers from Penryn, all of whom were involved in either the Packet service or in the Royal Navy. After retiring from the Navy in c.1810, John Tilly became Commander of the Packets Adventure and, later, Fox. He later became Captain of the Packet Camden and was eventually succeeded in this role by his brother Charles. The Camden was the one of the last of the civil packets employed in the service, being sold out in 1837.’ (National Maritime Museum, Cornwall)
John Tilly purchased the Tremough Estate (including Tremough House) in Penryn (Falmouth), Cornwall, at auction in 1827. The house, built in the 1700s, and its estate had fallen into disrepair and Tilly and his wife Onora were largely responsible for Tremough’s rejuvenation. They added a wing to the existing house, as well as building Tremough Barton Farm and establishing the Italian Garden. After John died in 1843, Onora continued to live in the house until her own death in 1857. Today Tremough is a heritage listed property and forms part of the campus of Falmouth University.
Full transcript of the letter from Onora Tilly to her son Charles Parker Tilly:
‘My Beloved Children, I find by Mr. Cornish there is a Ship into Falmouth bound direct to Port Phillip and tho’ I have nothing pleasant nor interesting to tell you it will be a letter from home. You will see by the Paper what a state we are in, dear God knows the end. I never heard a word till I saw it in the Paper. I never go out so I can’t send you any news. I have never heald [sic] my Head up since you left, pray God you may make it answer or I shall have no home to invite you too [sic]. Your Father’s health is better but his temper is dreadful. My mind is continually hurt by People coming to see the House and Farm. The dear Children where [sic] here yesterday in full health and spirits. I should think you will have letters from them. I fear it will make a great breakup there. Harry and his Father are not on such terms as I should wish, indeed who can. Tremough is looking beautiful, the Crops are all looking well. We had a Man from [xxx]ber to shear the sheep, I thought my heart must break, I never went near it was a reliefe when the Man’d left. Mr Green has got your little Mayor [sic] for 20£ I’m glad she is in good hands. The fellow Tom that led the Horse for Harry has turned out a great Villian [sic], he has secured all the Cocks he could put his han[ds] on and … as yet poor Harry can’t get any intelligence of him. Dear Harry is in bad spirits and hurt to the Heart at the maner [sic] your Father has acted respecting Tremough, its a counter part of his giving up the Ship, and now he’s like a brute, just as he was at that time, he will never stop till he has destroyed all like his Mother. Capt. Harting [?] still houlds on like an old [xxxx]. The Friends are not quit [sic] so regular in their Respects as they have been. Cornish has been here to reason with your Father but all in vain. Should you, my darling Charles, be disapointed in the Country don’t stay to spend your little all but return to Mr Duff [?] he will find something for you to do. He is so much disapointed at your leaving England that he has never answered your Father’s letters. Jemima is still here and begs her every kind wish for you and yours. I hope and trust I shall have a good account of poor Emma as we have had no letters from her. We hope all is well for sertenly [sic] if any of you whare [sic] ill you woud [sic] put [that] in thare [sic]. Capt. Winn’s Family are all well but they have lost the … the both with water on the Brain. Your Father begs his kindest and most affectionate care. Tom Tilly can’t [xxxx] cheape in Tauxy [Torquay?] than Falmouth consiquiantly [sic] don’t like it. Aunt Sally [is] out of Bed pretty well, I see but little of her nor indeed of any one else, we are nearly left alone. I look forward to a long letter from Emma with every particular, however insignificant it will be interesting to us at home. God bless you my Dear Children, and send you health and happyness with every other good thing, is the constant prayer of your affectionate Mother, O. Tilly.’