Nancarrow Family - F231

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Nancarrow Family (William & Elizabeth) - F231
Marriage 21 Dec 1851
Joseph Towan Nancarrow (b1855) and daughters
Name William Nancarrow
Lived 1828 – 12 Feb 1906
Nationality  English
Name Elizabeth Raby
Lived 1829 – 9 Feb 1906
Nationality  English
William Henry Nancarrow (15 Apr 1852 – 9 Jan 1874)
Elizabeth Jane Nancarrow (b. 1853)
Sarah Ann Nancarrow (1862 – 22 Jan 1939)
John Raby Nancarrow (1863 – 1898)
Maria N. Nancarrow (1867 – 10 Dec 1946)
Joseph Towan Nancarrow (5 Dec 1855 – 9 May 1936)
Minnie Nancarrow (7 Nov 1858 – 24 Mar 1933)

In the 1860s, the decline of copper and tin mining in Cornwall left many miners unemployed. Like so many other Cornishmen John Nancarrow had migrated to Moonta in South Australia where the newly-opened copper mines were booming and work was plentiful.

John soon established himself well, and in August 1872 he nominated his brother William and his family to be Government-assisted migrants. Under the scheme that operated at the time, John lodged £42 in Adelaide as a contribution to their "passage or outfit".

On the 17th of April 1873, William and Elizabeth Nancarrow left Plymouth, on board the City of Adelaide, for Port Adelaide with their seven children as well as William and John's widowed sister Elizabeth Edwards (46) with her daughters Bessie (11) and Sarah Jane (10). Elizabeth's husband, Thomas, also a Cornish copper miner had died when Sarah was eight years old.

The Journey Out

Boarding the City of Adelaide

On the eve of their departure, William and the younger children were each presented with a bible from the Redruth Primitive Methodist Church and Sunday School, where William had long been a church worker and served as a Sunday school teacher.

The first stage of their long journey was an exciting adventure in itself - a train trip from Redruth to Plymouth where they were due to join the City of Adelaide.

The ship had started its voyage on 11th April 1873 from London, where she had taken on some general cargo and several cabin-class paying passengers. Plymouth was the assembly point for the 86 assisted passage emigrants who would travel steerage. Of these, 49 were English, there were 36 Irish and 1 lone Scotsman; their trades were given as servants, housekeepers, dressmakers, copper miners and labourers.

The ‘tween decks were fitted up in the regulation way to accommodate the steerage migrants, although the space was not entirely clear, since a part before the main hatchway had been filled with cargo.

William (44) and Elizabeth Nancarrow (43) with their three youngest children Sarah (11), John (9), and Maria (5), were berthed in the married couples section on the starboard side of the main hatchway. There were fifteen children accompanying their parents (only one other large family group) and several young couples with babies.

William Jr (20) and Joseph Nancarrow (17) were in the forward compartment with 22 other single men, most of similar age. At the rear of the deck was the compartment for 26 single females, including Elizabeth Jane (19) and Mary Nancarrow (14). Some of these women were domestic servants, but the majority were either travelling with family members, or were due to join them in the colony.

The City of Adelaide with Llewellyn Bowen as Master, carrying its cargo of general merchandise and 107 passengers, including the "gentry" in the first-class and second-class cabins, left her berth in Plymouth Harbour at 11.00 am on Thursday morning 17th April bound for South Australia.

Course of the Voyage

On Friday the 18th of April a good northerly wind took the City of Adelaide past the Eddystone Light, where her sister-ship, the South Australian, was sighted on the inward voyage carrying cargo from Adelaide to London.

For the first four weeks there was a continuance of the exceptionally fine weather. They had made good progress, and by April 28th they had been in sight of Madeira. On May 4th they passed the Jacob taking troops from Bordeaux to Monte Video. The brisk trade winds commenced on May 12th and the "City" overtook the British ship Araby Maid travelling from London to Otago, but the winds were lost as they neared the Equator 2 days later.

Unusually for the region, the wind then came in from the westward, and the "City" had to cross the line on a starboard tack under reduced canvas. By May 15th she had made progress to the south and picked up the trade winds again for about ten days, although they proved not equal to the usual average. On May 25th, strong north-west winds set in which took her between Tristan de Cunha and Gough's Island and down into the "roaring forties".

She rounded the Cape of Good Hope on Friday June 6th, and for more than two weeks enjoyed a fine run before the wind across the Southern Ocean.

The Nancarrows and their fellow travellers would have been considered fortunate to experience what was an exceptionally good voyage for those days. The weather had been kind, although the ship did roll excessively at times, as if she was not in the best trim.

The ship was certainly not over-crowded, there were no serious health problems, and there were no deaths on board. The passengers had great respect for their doctor. His discipline was stringent, although some resented it at first - until they realised that this was for their mutual benefit.

The passengers and crew combined to produce their own amusement, and much of the time was passed with amateur theatricals and other entertainments which were greatly appreciated. Everybody generally maintained very good spirits.

The fine run was interrupted only by some very heavy weather on the Monday June 23rd when, after running before a gale for a few days, the ship was compelled to heave to. The migrants were confined below decks, the main hatchway was secured, and the ship was brought to the wind until the violence of the gale moderated.

On June 26th they were off Cape Leeuwin, but well south of it in Latitude 41degrees, and they sighted Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island the following Tuesday night. Then, very early in the morning of Thursday July 3rd and 76 days out of Plymouth, the City of Adelaide arrived at the Semaphore Anchorage.

Arriving in Adelaide

On the morning of the 3rd of July, after she had been boarded by the Health Officer (who found everybody to be fit), the Customs, and the representative of Harrold Bros, Town and Port Agents, several of the cabin passengers arranged to land at the Semaphore Jetty.

Newspaper reporters met the ship to collect the overseas news parcels and to record the arrival of the migrants. One noted that "the single men are all healthy looking and ought from all appearances to make good colonists".

Captain Bowen was highly praised by his passengers, and not only did they arrange for the customary testimony to appear in the papers, but they also organised a handsome present for him as well. As a whole they expressed a good opinion of their treatment by the ship's officers - except for one malcontent who complained because his wife was not supplied with bottled porter.

Later that day the City of Adelaide set all her sails with the intention of proceeding into the river to Port Adelaide, but the wind headed her and she was obliged to wait for the tug's services on the Friday morning.

William and Elizabeth in South Australia

The extended family of twelve Nancarrows/Edwards were eventually able to disembark the City of Adelaide and prepare for the journey to Moonta where they duly arrived safely at Cross Roads. William - as a mine carpenter - and his teenage sons had jobs at the Yelta Copper Mine already arranged for them by John Nancarrow.

There was a tragedy within six months when, at 11.00 pm on the night of 9th January 1874, the eldest son - 21 years old William Henry - was walking home from work in the dark, fell into an open pit and died of a broken neck.

By some tragic coincidence William Henry's aunty (William and John's sister) Elizabeth Edwards died on the same day. Nephew and aunty's deaths were recorded as consecutive entries on the same day in the SA Deaths Register. It is wondered if their deaths were connected - perhaps they fell down the same mine shaft - but no mention of either death was found in the local newspapers of the time. It is reputed that Elizabeth died of typhoid, and so it could only have been a tragic coincidence.

William built their home at Cross Roads himself. It had six rooms and a large detached kitchen - frequently the practice at the time. Roofing was initially of wooden palings that were later replaced with galvanised iron.

On each side of the house was a large paddock - one was "put in" with a crop of hay to feed their horse "Gypsy" and their milking goats, the other was set up as a garden for growing vegetables, potatoes and fruit.

William and Elizabeth lived out another 30-odd years of their lives quietly and unobtrusively in the mining community at Cross Roads. Elizabeth was always willing to help as a midwife to neighbours and friends. Her small grandchildren loved to run to grandmother's for a piece of quince jam and goat's cream. William was described in his old age as a "dear benevolent old gentleman".

William and Elizabeth died within four days of each other in February 1906 at the age of 77. They left five surviving children, 44 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

The Children of William and Elizabeth

William Henry Nancarrow

It has already been said that the eldest of William and Elizabeth's seven children, William Henry, 21, died in a fall early in 1874 only six months after the family had arrived at Cross Roads.

Elizabeth Jane Nancarrow

Elizabeth Jane, William and Eliabeth's eldest daughter, married William Bartley on the 19th September 1874. They settled in Broken Hill - indicating that he was also a miner - where they raised nine children. She is buried there.

Joseph Towan Nancarrow

Joseph Towan married Elizabeth Nicholls on August 4th 1879 and is the subject of a separate section below.

Mary Nancarrow

Mary, who was often known as "Minnie", married John Cain - an Irishman from Ashley in County Torome. They made their home in another mining community in Ipswich, Queensland - where she died at 74, having raised five children.

Sarah Ann Nancarrow

On the 6th May 1879, Sarah Ann married James Henry Roberts (b1855 d18/1/1934) who was also born in Cornwall. They brought up seven children, and lived at Heathfield near Mount Lofty. Sarah died in Western Australia at the age of 76.

John Raby Nancarrow

John Taby grew up to marry Charlotte Wellington, the daughter of John Wellington, a Cross Roads miner, on 14th July 1886. Before John died in 1898 at the relatively young age of 35, they had six children - all girls who survived to be married subsequently.

John's widow Charlotte married a man called Edmonds in 1904, and before he too died, they had a son. Charlotte again remarried, this time to a waterside worker - John Peterson, and another son was born. Charlotte died on 11th December 1912 but her third husband survived her by only nine days. Peterson was working on the steamer "Dilkera" on the 20th when the cargo shifted, he fell down the hold and broke his neck.

Maria N. Nancarrow

William and Elizabeth's youngest child, Maria, was not the last to marry. Her wedding was on 21st November 1885 to William Williams (b1861 d24/6/1950) who had been born in the Victorian gold-mining centre of Castlemaine.

Her parents' original home was left to Maria and Bill who lived out the rest of their lives in that house. It was improved and enlarged with additional rooms to accommodate their family of eight daughters and one son (also William Williams, but known as "Les"). A few years after Maria (1946, aged 79) and Bill (1950, aged 89) died, the property was bought by "city folks" who demolished the old home and rebuilt.

Joseph Towan's life in South Australia

Joseph Towan was born in Plain-an-Gwarry, Redruth on 5th December 1855, and was 17 years old when his family migrated to South Australia.

At once Joseph resumed work as a miner - the traditional family occupation for which he was destined from birth. Here, he found reasonably continuous work at the Yelta Copper Mine, and in later years he was able to form a contract team with his sons.

In 1879, on several acres of land opposite his parents' home in Cross Roads, Joseph Towan built his own house in which he was to live for the rest of his days. On August 4th in that year, he married Elizabeth Nicholls at the home of her father, James Nicholls, another Cross Roads miner.

Joseph and Elizabeth had seven children between 1880 and 1892, losing one of them at a few weeks of age. On 3rd May 1894, 39 years old Elizabeth died at her home while giving birth to her eighth child, a daughter who survived only for another three weeks.

The following year Joseph Towan, 39, a widower with six children, remarried a widow with five young children of her own - Mrs Esther Potter, 30.

Joseph's house was rather small for the combined family. The kitchen was built about ten yards behind the main house. It had a brick oven and an open fireplace, and there was room for old sofas that could serve as day beds for the elderly folk, particularly in cold weather.

Joseph and Esther had five more children of their own, but three died before their first birthday, and only two sons lived to adulthood.

Joseph Towan Nancarrow was a typical Cornishman or "Cousin Jack", and spoke with the rich accent of one. He was short of stature, ginger haired, with the palest of pale blue eyes, and was very witty.

For a trade he knew only mining, although in his later years when work was short, he did supplement his income for short periods as a fisherman, the other age-old tradition of the Cornish, used to living by the sea and being out of work for periods.

He had an inventive turn of mind, often making working model engines, or moulding doorstops in various designs. He loved his garden, and would make "clappers" or "rattlers" for scaring birds from his fruit trees and vines. These contained glass marbles or pebbles and were hung in the trees with a string attached that ended by the back door. When the string was pulled, off flew the birds.

Joseph Towan never failed to attend church, and he participated in both the Christian Endeavour and the Sunday School. A strict and stern Methodist, he once punished young Joseph Henry, who had negligently broken the hinge on the small front gate, by making him stand for an hour or more in the corner of the room while holding the heavy family bible over his head with aching arms.

He died on 9th May 1936, survived by his second wife and the eight children who grew to maturity, and was buried in the Moonta Cemetery with his first wife.

An Obituary appeared for him in the Advertiser on 18 May 1936.[1]

His cottage was still standing in 1985, having been purchased some 20 years earlier by Dutch migrants for use as a holiday home, but was sadly silent for most months of the year.


Researched by Ron Roberts, Adelaide, South Australia


  1. "OBITUARY.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931-1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 18 May 1936. p. 17. Retrieved 4 June 2011.