Macclesfield Community History


From: "Macclesfield Jubilee 1840-1990, Families Old and New", compiled by the Macclesfield Community Newsletter Committee. See here.

More information added below on 28th March 2018.

ONE of the most colourful personalities to have lived at Macclesfield was William (Billy) FREEMAN.

Billy was respected by all, and feared by some, partly because of his shocking temper and partly because it was whispered, among the older generation, that he had been 'transported' to Australia. Most felt that this could be true and if so it must have been for some very violent crime.

However, if people of his generation did tend to recall him only because of a very bad and ungovernable temper an examination of his life reveals Bill to have been a real pioneer , hard working and honest in all of his dealings.

Now it is true that Billy was a convict but this record of his 'crime and punishment' taken from the New South Wales Archives explains why he was transported: -

No 1292 - 166, William FREEMAN, Factory Boy, Age 16
Tried: Salisbury Assizes, April 20, 1830
Single, Education R and W, Native Place, Somersetshire
Offence: Stealing cheese
Sentence: 7 years transportation

It seems likely that his age was falsified to allow for the penalty of transportation for he was only twelve and a half years old at the time of the trial, and fourteen and a half years when he arrived at Sydney Cove. Yet on both occasions his age was given as sixteen. (Had Billy taken some bread to go with the cheese his punishment would probably have been even more severe!)

On June 8, 1832 the convict ship John arrived at Sydney Cove with Billy and two hundred other convicts aboard. Having travelled overland from New South Wales he arrived in South Australia in 1840.

On September 15, 1840, Billy married Sarah STACEY at Trinity Church, Adelaide. Sarah was the daughter of James and Mary STACEY and she and her family had only arrived in South Australia on June 20 of the same year. As the STACEY's came from Stogursey in Somerset and Billy from Freshford, Somerset, all were from the same county in England.

Billy and Sarah first lived and farmed near Belvedere and later came to Doctor's Creek near Macclesfield. Billy and his bride went to Sandegrove(sp?) to farm and he was assisted at one time with a loan from Edward STIRLING, MLC, who said of Billy “I have known him for twenty-three years as an honest man of good character.”

Billy and Sarah had ten children who lived beyond childhood and all contributed something to the well-being of Macclesfield at some time or another. During his lifetime Billy was a dairy and wheat farmer, a builder, a butcher, mail coach driver and a mail cart driver. He is said to have driven the first mail coach from Strathalbyn to Adelaide, described as "a three horse coach". He certainly drove the mail coach from Strathalbyn to Yankalilla , a spring dray type of vehicle.

He conducted a butcher's shop for some time in premises just north of the Macclesfield Post Office - the building is still in use. He also did a lot of work for the Macclesfield District Council but in 1883 declined a contract to clean up the Macclesfield General Cemetery because the price was too low.

Billy was a very good runner and won many events at local shows and picnics. For the greater part of his life he wore the ’old English‘ style of smock: a loose garment worn over one's working clothes. It is said that he was one of only two or three people in Macclesfield to do so.

There seems no doubt that Billy must have been very tough as the Southern Argus reports September 14, 1882, that "...he fell from his cart and a wheel passed over his head but he sustained no injury".

Sarah, aged seventy-three, died March 6, 1896, leaving Billy, three sons, three daughters, forty grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. One daughter, Rebecca, married into the WIRTH family who later ran the famous circus.

Billy, at the age of eighty-two, died on April 16, 1899, in the old Marra house on Cunliffe Street, then the home of his daughter Emma. He, Sarah and one son, John Henry, are buried just inside the main gate of the old Church of England Cemetery in Luck Street.

Billy was the great-grandfather of Len CHESSER who says of him that he was "..a real man, I wish I had known him."

Further details can now be added to the FREEMAN FAMILY HISTORY, thanks to Cheryl AMBROSE from NSW and Barry FREEMAN from Canberra; both descendants of William & Sarah FREEMAN.

Cheryl contacted us in 2016 regarding her Great Grandfather, one of William and Sarah’s children, although at the time she was unable to find any record of his birth.

She said: "Sarah and William had another son not listed – my G. Grandfather was born around 1863 – his name was James William Henry FREEMAN.  During this time both William and Sarah were in Adelaide Gaol for burning down their daughter’s house so highly likely he was born inside prison and raised by an older sibling.  There is no record of his birth that I can find anywhere".

James William Henry is now included among the names of William & Sarah’s 12 children, listed below, and where known we have included their years of birth and death.

1. Maria (Myers), Bowden
2. Ellen Jane
3. Harriett Hillier
4. Emma (Chesser) (Mara)
5. William George
6. Rebecca (Wirth)
7. Elijah
8. William
9. Not recorded
10. John William
11. James William Henry
12. John Henry
1842 - 1919
1843 - 1862
1845 - 1875
1848 - 1907
29-5-1847 (Strathalbyn) - 1923
16-12-1855 - 1931
1857 - 1864
10-11-1858 (Kentucky district Strathalbyn)
27-01-1860 (Sandergrove)
30-6-1866 (Macclesfield) - 8-5-1875 (aged 10 years)

Barry obtained much of his information from the ‘really helpful staff at The National Library’ and their collection of digitised British newspapers and journals.  This is what he discovered!

The Freeman family was a Freshford, Somerset family. The information below is taken from the records from St Peters Church, Freshford. (Please note: George Freeman was William Freeman’s father)

First available records:
James FREEMAN 1755-1807 m. Ann FREEMAN 1755-1844
Their children: (dates here are baptism records, not dates of birth)
James Jnr.      10/7/1787
John               4/5/1788
George            8/5/1791
Susanna         1/3/1794
Charles           5/6/1796

George FREEMAN 1791-1843 m. Ann FREEMAN (no record)
The records of Amy and William below state that their father George was a weaver or clothier.
Their Children: (baptism records)
Harriet           5/3/1808
Rebekah        15/9/1811
Amy              26/12/1813
William         28/12/1817 (DOB 10/12/1817)

Some early history of William while he was still in England

A significant influence on the local life in Freshford, and consequently of the Freeman family, was the Freshford Mill on the Frome River, which dates back to the 17th century.

In the 19th century the fortunes of the mill (and consequently the district) fluctuated. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) times were hard and the Mill closed in 1828. All the machinery was sold off by 1829 and 92 men lost their jobs. At that time George was a weaver and William was a factory boy. George worked up to 15 hours per day and as a factory boy William worked 12 hours per day. He worked 8 hours on a Saturday and had Sunday off. Boys started work when they were 9 years old.

In 1828, William went with his father to Trowbridge to get work. Trowbridge was 5½ miles away from Freshford and had 15 factories.

On the 28 January 1829 William Freeman aged 13, was facing his first prison sentence of 1 month for stealing 2 fur caps as recorded in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette on Thursday March 19, 1829. At his trial he is reported to have wept bitterly saying that he had ‘no mum and no friends’. William’s comment may indicate that he was left to wander the streets unable to get work, while his mother and sisters remained in Freshford. However, the 1841 census showed that his mother Ann and sister Rebekah lived in Trowbridge and his father George had returned to Freshford.

William’s major trial was in April 1830 for stealing 6 lb of cheese. This was the reason for his 7 years transportation and was recorded in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette under Wilts County Sessions on April 29, 1830. William spent 19 months in Devizes Old Prison before being transferred to the Convict Ship – John, to await transportation to NSW on February 7, 1832. William disembarked in Sydney on June 8, 1832.

The History Group would love to hear from anyone with connections to this old Macclesfield family.



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