Rebecca Best was born 1834 in Compton Dundon, Somerset, England to Robert Best (c1810-1868) and Mary Clements (c1790-1854) and died 20 June 1921 Towrang, Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia of unspecified causes.
- 1 Immigration
- 2 Life with Thomas Lansdown
- 3 Thomas Lansdown's death & Rebecca's life as a widow
- 4 Life with Michael Vaughan
- 5 Death & Sale of the farm
- 6 Obituaries
- 7 Stories included in Rebecca's Obituary that she had told about her life
- 8 Siblings
- 9 Residences
- 10 Footnotes (including sources)
Rebecca, an only child, arrived in Sydney on 18 October 1855 on the "Gilmore" as a single female immigrant at the age of 21. The ship had left Southampton on 12 June 1855, and Rebecca, like the other 40 single women on board, was under the supervision of the Matron Mrs Rowe. The ship indent shows her to be illiterate, a general servant, from Compton Dundon in Somerset. She had no relations in the colony and arrived in good health. She had paid the assisted passage fare of £1. Her father Robert Best (c1810-1868) was still living in Compton Dundon, while her mother Mary Clements (c1790-1854) was recently deceased. Her only sibling, her older half-sister Frances Godfrey (1828-1887) was recently married. (Rebecca is found in the 1841 and 1851 censuses at Compton Dundon with her parents and elder half-sister Frances Godfrey (1828-1887), the daughter of her mother's first marriage.)
After arriving in Sydney in October 1855, Rebecca, along with the other Government immigrants on the "Gilmore", needed to find employment. She then needed to visit the offices of one of the Labour Agents in Sydney, W.B. Haigh in Pitt Street or Oliver Staines in George Street. They were both offering jobs in the city and in the country, and both took the opportunity of the arrival of the "Gilmore" to advertise their businesses to the general public. Haigh advertised that demand and supply of jobs was almost equal except for a shortage of single (male) farm workers, while Staines advertised that during the past week he had made numerous engagements, including of female servants, but as on previous occasions many did not want to leave the city. Haigh was advertising positions for housemaids in the city at between £18 and £20 per annum plus rations, while hutkeepers in the country could expect between £20 and £25. Staines rates were similar except that housemaids in the city could expect up to £25 per annum. (Empire, 20 October 1855)
Rebecca obtained a position on James Butcher's property at Bronte, south of Goulburn. Rebecca was still working there in February 1857 when she was called to be witness for "Mr. James Butcher of Bronte" in a court case and deposed that she was "in Mr. Butcher's service".
Life with Thomas Lansdown
In late September 1856 Thomas Lansdown's relationship with the mother of his children, Jane Kelly (c1830-1872), had broken down. Jane was compelled to leave without her 5 young children who at that time ranged in age from 7 months to 5 years.
In late September 1856 Thomas (about 38 years old) then needed to hire outside help to care for his children, and he hired the "very old woman" Sarah Jane Ash (c1775-1860). In a court case of December 1857 Sarah gave evidence that she lived in the home of Thomas Lansdown for about a 12 month period taking care of his children. About 9 months after she began working for Thomas Lansdown "he brought home a young woman known as Rebecca Blazes(sic). The two lived together afterwards as man and wife. In consequence of this conduct, I left Lansdowne’s house." She added that the "woman Rebecca is near her confinement". This evidence agrees with what is known that Rebecca conceived a child with Thomas Lansdown in mid-July 1857, and that she was to give birth to this child, Henry Best Lansdown, 3½ months after the court case in December 1857.
On 25 June 1857, after moving into Thomas Lansdown's home on his farm at Quialigo near Goulburn as his defacto, Rebecca, 22 years old, entered into a written agreement to hire 82 year old Sarah Jane Ash (c1775-1860) "to look after the children and make herself generally useful for the term of three months" for a remuneration of 2s 6d per week (court documents, November 1857). The three month agreement was to terminate on 25 September 1857. Rebecca, who was illiterate, was not able to draft this agreement herself, and it is likely that the agreement was drafted by Thomas Lansdown who was literate.
In mid-July 1857 Thomas and Rebecca's first child was conceived.
On 14 November 1857, 22 year old Rebecca was before the courts being sued for wages by 82 yeat old Sarah Jane Ash (c1775-1860). Rebecca was sued for £1 12s 6d in unpaid wages, which was the entire wages for the 3 months that the written agreement covered. In other words since the time that Rebecca had to begun to live with Thomas Lansdown Sarah Ash had received no wages. The court contrasted the 2 women before the bench as "a decent old woman", and a woman who "has lately been several times in the police court". Rebecca swore that Sarah Ash had only been engaged by the month (and therefore by implication she only owed 1 months wages and not 3), but her evidence was contradicted by the written agreement. In lieu of payment of the outstanding £1 12s 6d in unpaid wages Jane offered goods instead of cash, goods that were brought to the court "by a man named Lansdowne with whom she lives". These goods were accepted, but Rebecca was still ordered to pay Sarah Ash's legal costs of 18s 6d.
On 12 April 1858 Rebecca and Thomas' first child Henry Thomas Best Lansdown was born. Henry was followed by Frances Mary Best Lansdown on 7 April 1860, Susan Best Lansdown on 10 May 1862, and Robert Best Lansdown on 1 August 1864. Three more children followed: Emma Best Lansdown 1 June 1866, Frederick Best Lansdown 27 September 1868 (he died in 1869), and Edith Best Lansdown on 17 March 1870.
Thomas Lansdown and Rebecca Best then married on 10 April 1873 at the Wesleyan Parsonage in Goulburn. Rebecca and Thomas Lansdown did not marry until 1873 after the death of Jane Kelly (c1830-1872), Thomas Lansdown's wife. Rebecca was shown as single, and Thomas was shown as a widower. Rebecca signed the register with her mark (that is a cross), and Thomas signed with his signature.
Their marriage certificate from 1873 and newspapers of the day reveal that Thomas and Rebecca were living and farming at Boxers Creek (aka Shaws Creek), 6 kilometres east of Goulburn in the latter years of Thomas' life.
Thomas Lansdown's death & Rebecca's life as a widow
Rebecca's husband Thomas Lansdown died on 24 August 1885 at Towrang, 15 kilometres north-east of Goulburn, just 2 months after the death of their youngest daughter Edith at Boxers Creek.
After Thomas' death Rebecca took over management of the farm at Boxers Creek.
In July 1886 Rebecca was charged with ill-treating a bull, but was acquitted.
NINE rabbit-scalps were brought to Mr. Roberts today by Mrs. Lansdowne of Boxer’s creek, She says the first one appeared there about slx months ago; but that now they have become numerous, and about four or five o’clock may be seen playing about in groups. It is possible that a shooting party may be formed an a means of lessening the evil.
(Goulburn Herald, 5 February 1896)
In about 1891 Rebecca turned the farm into a dairying operation, which she managed, with the help of her family, for about the next 30 years.
Life with Michael Vaughan
Nearly 20 years after Thomas's death Rebecca secretly married Michael Vaughan on 21 September 1903 at Moss Vale. That the marriage was secret was revealed in a court case in 1906.
A Peculiar case
Michael Vaughan and Mrs. Landsdowne were yesterday separately charged at Goulburn with having meat in their possession supposed to have been stolen. The case against the woman broke down when it was found that for many years she had been Vaughan's wife, a fact of which her own friends were ignorant.
(Barrier Miner, 10 November 1906)
GOULBURN POLICE COURT
Before the Police Magistrate.
CHARGE OF CATTLE-STEALING.
Michael Vaughan, about 60, was charged with that he did, between 1st April, 1906, and 16th September, 1906, steal eight head of cattle, valued at £26, the property of James Hogan at Spring Ponds, Bungonia.
Sergeant Wood deposed that about 12.30 on 28th instant in company with Constable Thompson he arrested accused and charged him as above; witness applied for a remand for the production of evidence.
Accused desired to make a statement, but the P.M. said he could do so later in the case.
Remanded till Monday next.
In answer to the P.M,. Senior-sergeant McHardy said the police did not object to bail after Wednesday.
(Goulburn Herald, Monday 29 October 1906)
CHARGE OF CATTLE STEALING
AN UNEXPECTED DEVELOPMENT.
There was a most unusual termination to a case yesterday in the police court. Michael Vaughan, who reserved his defense, was committed for trial on a charge of stealing four head of cattle. On a further charge of having in his possession portion of one heifer reasonably suspected to have been stolen he was fined £50 with costs or six months hard labour In Goulburn gaol. The property was found on the premises of Mrs Lansdowne, Boxer’s Creek where defendant had lived about four years. Rebecca Lansdowne was charged with having in her possession the carcasses, of four cattle reasonably suspected to have been come by dishonestly. A second charge was also preferred regarding the beef from two heifers. A surprise was caused in the court when Mr Betts, defendant’s solicitor, stated that the accused was the wile of Michael Vaughan. He took the point that the propertv in question must be held to be in the possession of her husband and not hers. The case, he added, could also be defended on its merits on the ground that the defendant knew nothing whatsoever of any cattle having been killed except her own. The cases were withdrawn. “Mrs Lansdowne” was married to Vaughan, it transpires, three years ago. Outside the court some of the members of her family met her and expressed their surprise that the defendant Vaughan was her husband. Mr Betts himself did not know of the marriage till the previous night. Throughout the case against Vaughan “Mrs Lansdowne” was referred to under that name, and the name of Lansdowne also appeared in the charge book.
(Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 12 November 1906)
Death & Sale of the farm
Rebecca died on 20 January 1921 at Towrang, Goulburn. Her death was registered under the name Rebecca Vaughan. The informant for her death registration was her son Robert who recorded her age as 100 years, the age that she had told her children that she was. She was actually only 86 years old.
Under the terms of the will of her late husband Thomas Lansdown, on Rebecca's death the farm was to be inherited by their son Robert Best Lansdowne. The farm, instead, was sold at auction by Rebecca's Estate.
Snug Little Diary Farm.
WOOD & CO.
HAVE received instructions from the Executor in the Estate of the late Mrs. Lansdowne Vaughan, to sell by auction, on Saturday, 21st May at 12 o'clock sharp, at the Town Hall, Goulburn, that Snug Little Grazing Property known as Shaw's Creek, at Boxer's Creek, 4 miles from Goulburn, comprising 255 Acres of Good Grazing Land, which will be submitted in two lots; viz., 224 Acres Homestead and 31 Acres which does not join the homestead. This property has all conveniences for carrying on a dairy or trading depot, in easy distance of factory and market, and can be a suburban home, half mile from school; mail passes every other day; very sound country; well watered, and richly pastured; has been used chiefly for dairying for the past thirty years.
Terms and full particulars at sale.
(Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 19 May 1921)
Rebecca's sons and daughters all purchased parts of the property.
Rebecca had 2 Obituaries printed in the newspaper after she died on Friday, 21 January 1921 at the age of 86.
The first obituary was published on 22 January 1921, the day after Rebecca died, in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post:
- The death is announced of Mrs.
- Rebecca Lansdowne, who figured so
- prominently amongst the old people at
- the Centenary celebrations, her age be
- -ing stated to be 100.
The Centenary Celebrations for the city of Goulburn had been held less than 3 months earlier on 25-31 October 1920. At that time Rebecca was no where near 100 years in age. The above then introduces one of Rebecca's qualities that was described in the second obituary published just a couple of days later, on 25 January, in the same newspaper, that being that Rebecca was a story-teller:
- The old lady, in later days, was fond of relating this story...To the last she was active, her memory being remarkable, and her fund of humourous stories being remarkable.
The second obituary, which records her name as Harriet Lansdowne, recounts some of the stories that Rebecca told about her life. Many of the details in the obituary about her life were incorrect, and the stories that she told are therefore also called into question. Incorrect details include her age which was stated to be 104, the year that she was born which was stated to be 1817, that she had left England at the end of 1838, and that the ship that she had arrived on, the "Gilmore" had arrived in Botany Bay in 1839. This last is incorrect on two counts, as immigrant ships did not anchor in Botany Bay but sailed direct to Port Jackson. Other incorrect details include that she married Thomas Lansdown before 1868.
Stories included in Rebecca's Obituary that she had told about her life
When Rebecca arrived in Goulburn
- Story: When Rebecca arrived in Goulburn the old convict stockade at Towrang was a hive of industry, and the Goulburn Plains were a wide expanse of bushland dotted here and there with the huts of pioneers.
- Fact: This story accurately describes Goulburn in 1839 when the obituary says that Rebecca arrived, but not in 1855 when Rebecca actually arrived. The convict stockade at Towrang was active from 1833 until August 1844 when the 80th Regiment was recalled. During the period 1833-1844 about 250 convicts were housed at the stockade at any one time. From the 1820s large land grants had been given to men who wanted to farm the Goulburn Plains, and these men and their families had begun to settle the area. In 1855 the area was becoming more settled and men were now buying smaller plots of land from the government for £1 an acre.
Travel from Sydney to Goulburn
- Story: Rebecca secured the position of a domestic servant on Mr Butcher's property at Bronti (today known as Bronte). (This is not a reference to the property "Bronti" owned in 1855 by Robert Cocking alias Roberts (1797-1871).) Transport was scarce and expensive. Rebecca therefore decided to walk all the way to Goulburn (a distance of about 200km). She left her heavy luggage behind to come by carrier later, and "plunged into the bush track which led to the unknown". Twice on the way she got lost, once being in the wilderness of the Shoalhaven mountains. She evaded many perils of the bush, even spending one night in a hollow tree "to avoid a wandering tribe of blacks". She was eventually found on the Goulburn Plains by a friendly teamster (driver of a team of oxens) who then took her to her destination. "Of her adventures during the long treck a book might be written". "Bronti" in those days "was practically a penal settlement". One of her duties at "Bronti" was to keep an eye on the convict servants, report any misdemeanours, and on many occasions to drive them to the "Lock-up".
- Fact: A court case in February 1857 confirms that Rebecca was employed in the service of Mr James Butcher on his property at Bronte. In 1855, however, when Rebecca arrived in New South Wales, private farms were not like penal settlements. Transportation had ceased to NSW in 1840 and private placement of convict servants had ceased before 1855. Also in order to entice employees to leave the convenience of the city of Sydney and work in the country employers had to provide a means of transport to prospective employees, so there would have been no need for Rebecca to walk. This then brings into question the story that Rebecca told about her long walk to Goulburn with all its many adventures. This was a walk that she claimed to have completed as a lone young woman through unfamiliar territory, and for which she would have had to purchase and carry food and water to last a week or more. Her aim would instead have been to reach her place of employment as soon as possible to commence earning her wage and room and board.
Her husband Thomas Lansdown
- Story: Her husband Thomas Lansdown had been stock overseer for the "old Faithfull family".
- Fact: It is not known if Thomas Lansdown's duties as an employee for the Faithfull family on their property "Springfield" near Quialigo were ever as a stock overseer. The earliest of 2 references in the newspapers to Thomas Lansdown in relation to the "Springfield" farm is in 1855 when he was living there, so by assumption he must have been working there. By September 1856, however, he was farming on land that he owned at Quialigo. Newspapers of the day reveal that he did work as a ranger for the "Springfield" stud of William Pitt Faithfull (1806-1896), with duties to impound stray stock and remove trespassers, commencing in May 1862. How long he worked as a ranger is unknown. This job was to supplement his farming income.
farm in the early 1860s but his duties were not described except to reveal that during his time at Quialigo he was employed as ranger for the "Springfield" farm in 1862 by .
Hawking Business and Bushrangers
- Story: Rebecca purchased a (horse-drawn) cart and plied "a profitable trade between the station and the Braidwood diggings, then in the height of their fame". Once she was stopped by Gardiner's gang, but they were unable to find her cash as Thomas Lansdown had built a secret drawer in the shaft of the vehicle.
- Fact: In February 1865 when the Frank Gardiner-Ben Hall Gang was in the Braidwood area Rebecca had Thomas's 5 children from an earlier relationship to care for, and her own then 4 children, the youngest of whom was only 6 months old. It is unlikely that Rebecca was able to conduct a hawking business when, at the same time, she had a household and a large number of children to care for.This story appears to be ficticious, just as the previous stories appear to be.
- Story: Rebecca and Thomas settled at Shaws Creek (aka Boxers Creek) in 1868. She "lived to watch the old township of Mulwaree grow to a thriving city". (Mulwaree was an old name for Goulburn.) She liked to watch the "iron horse" (train) "thundering along the valleys".
- Fact: It is not known exactly when Rebecca and Thomas settled at Boxers Creek, but it was after April 1871 and before their marriage in April 1873. Her last child was born at Quialigo in 1870, and they were still living there in April 1871 when Thomas advertised some livestock for sale. Rebecca said that she spent "14 happy years at Quialigo" which would be to about 1871. Rebecca did indeed live to see Goulburn grow into a thriving city, and she would have no doubt enjoyed watching the trains that reached Goulburn in 1869.