Joseph Robley was born in Sydney on the 6th of May 1823. His parents were Christopher James Robley , a Cumbrian transported to New South Wales for life for theft and Mary Commins, the daughter of a retired Private soldier formerly in the 73rd Regiment of Foot and a settler in Sydney.
His father, Christopher, had been granted a ticket of leave which enabled him to marry and had subsequently turned his life around. At the time of Joseph's birth he was employed as a sawyer. Two years later the family were living in Sydney where Joseph was employed as a constable and three years later as a Sheriff's Officer attached to the law Courts. It seems most likely that Joseph's early years were spent in a good and stable family atmosphere.
In 1826 Christopher,together with his father-in-law, applied for and were granted four allotments of land in Clarence Street, Sydney in the names of John Commins and Christopher James Robley, as well as a 40 acre lease to John Commins in Sutton. As a part of his deposition he stated that he was also the employer of William Thomas, a fisherman and his Government Assigned Servant.
Christopher died in Windmill Hill, Sydney and was buried on 6th November 1838. He was 51 years old. Mary, his wife, died in her home in Market Street, Sydney, five months after the death of her husband, on the 10th of April 1839 and was buried two days later on the 12th of April in the Parish of St. James, Sydney in the County of Cumberland.
Some time after the death of his parents Joseph moved away from Sydney and was employed, most probably, farming on his father- in- law's lease in the Sutton Forest area.
Sutton Forest is still little more than a pub, a few buildings, a couple of antique/gift shops, a riding school and a church. Located 129 km south-west of Sydney and 5 km from Moss Vale, this tiny village can be missed if you blink as you drive through. The early history of the village is much more impressive than its current size would suggest. The first European party to investigate the district was that of ex-convict John Wilson in 1798. One of the party, recorded that it was 'most beautiful country, having nothing but fine large meadows with ponds of water in them, fine green hills but very thin of trees'. Governor Macquarie, impressed with the beauty of the area and the quality of the soil named the settlement after Charles Manners Sutton (the speaker of the British House of Commons) on 2 November 1820.
While living in Sutton Forest Joseph met amd married Ellen Melton in May 1848. She was the daughter of Elizabeth Wood Goldsmith and step-daughter of Richard Melton, born in 1833 in Parramatta. Richard was a ploughman and a freed convict. and Elizabeth Goldsmith was also a freed convict. The couple moved to Inverlochy where they were employed on a large property. They had three children, Joseph William born at Inverlochy, 24th January 1849, Mary Ann, born at Mereworth 18th of August 1851. The third child, Ellen, was born in Goulburn on the 10th of February 1854, a month after the death of her husband of Joseph.
In 1854 Joseph went to the gold diggings in Ovens and in a very few weeks was able to dig between 800 and 900 pounds worth of gold. In those days this was a fortune! The Ovens Gold Rush at Beechworth started in February 1852. Soon discoveries at Yackandandah, Nine Mile Creek, Stanley and Wooragee followed.
Joseph was obviously lured by the prospect of success. Living was harsh even by the standards of the day. Unsanitary conditions combined with cold and wet winters increased the risk of illness and disease. Although there were many success stories, surviving as a hopeful digger on the Goldfields, seemed to have been hard.
A letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald,in 1851, must have sparked the rush.
"No doubt you have heard, ere this reaches you, of these diggings, and the great success that has been attendant on several parties working here at the first outset. It is certainly sufficient to set the world agog, when parties, by digging holes 8 by 16 for a month, suddenly find themselves in possession of £500 to £1000 and £1500. Were it not for the water, the wealth that could be amassed here is. almost beyond belief ; but, as it is, with no means of diverting the stream, the diggers are compelled to seek the drier places, hold very cheap at first, but now are found to yield their 4 to 20 ounces a claim. That claims are sunk without finding anything, I admit ; but if you get where the metal is, it will amply repay for all mischances. In commencing these claims, a shaft is sunk about 12 to 15 feet ; then tunnelling ensues among the washing stuff, until the granite rock is arrived at a foot of which pays well for the working. In many of these holes the gold can be seen at the bottom, and on the top of the rock reddish golden streaks are visible. Night and day these holes are worked by some, who, favoured by fortune, the thoughts of Morpheus seem driven away. That there is plenty of gold is not to be denied, and that they will prove the best summer diggings in the colony I feel assured."There was a wild and lawless population that followed the miners and the traders followed them. By the 1860s the diggings 'reeked of revelry and champagne'. Despite there being prohibition, dance halls and hotels were open seven days a week. Liquor was smuggled in a wide variety of ways including inside saddlery and as a substitute for the padding under women's dresses. Wealth led to reckless extravagance, burning pound notes, skittles using bottles of wine and 'all the mad brained devices for ruining the working man and enriching the sharper'. There is the story of lucky diggers laying a wager as to who would treat the assembled company to the most expensive 'shout'. One ordered several dozen bottles of wine, the other, the entire stock of champagne, about 200 bottles!
Overjoyed by his good fortune, and clearly falling in with the excesses of the times, Joseph took to drink leaving him temporarily mad and penniless. He attempted suicide by cutting his throat. Thwarted in his attempt , he confessed that he feared meeting with his wife and children and having to confess of having lost his fortune.
Subsequently he made a further attempt by drowning himself in a waterhole but was rescued by passers by. Eventually he returned to his family and was taken on as cook at the Inverlochy Hotel in Goulburn, by the then owner, Mr. McDonald.
The colonial government made land grants to free settlers in the Goulburn area from the opening of the area to settlement in about 1820. Land was later sold to settlers. The process displaced the local indigenous population and the introduction of exotic livestock drove out a large part of the Aborigines' food supply.
The reduction of the food supply and the accidental introduction of exotic diseases, substantially reduced the local indigenous population. Some local Aborigines survived In the 1930s the local billabong dried up and the Aboriginal people moved away although some have,over time, made their way back. By 1841 Goulburn had a population of some 1,200 - a courthouse, police barracks, churches, hospital and post office and was the centre of a great sheep and farming area.
Returning to his family it seems that Joseph was unable to turn over a new leaf and he continued to drink heavily, while his suicidal tendancies remained. In January 1854 after he failed to turn up at work a search party eventually found him hanged with a halter attached to one of the tie beams in the stable.
Two years later, on the 30th December 1856, his widow, Ellen Robley, married Joseph Wade in the Goulburn Registry Office. Joseph Wade was then aged 43 and a baker and confectioner and also a widower. Ellen at the time of her marriage gave her occupation as dairy maid. Both gave their location as Tarlo near Goulburn. Joseph had been born in Staffordshire in England and already had three sons and a daughter by his previous marriage. He died from heart disease in December 1895 leaving Ellen a widow for the second time.
Ellen died in Goulburn in June 1896 having been involved in an accident four days previously. She had left Goulburn for Willeroo in the morning in a spring cart heading for her son George's place where it was intended she should spend the rest of her days. In the late afternoon of the same day she was found unconscious beside the road near the gate to Willeroo. She was taken to her son's house overnight and the following day taken to Goulburn where she received medical attention. She died four days later from 'concussion of the brain'.
It was thought that she lost the reins, which then tangled with the horse's heels causing it to kick and bolt. In trying to regain control, she was thrown from the cart and dragged for some distance. When she was found a heel on one of her boots was almost torn off and her clothes were worn and torn. She left a grown family of seven.
Written by John Robley, from the research of the late Eileen S. Young.