Saturday, June 29, 2019

Elizabeth Ryland nee Withers

As mentioned in the previous post another of the Withers siblings came to Australia, the third of the children of John Withers and Susannah Cooke of Bristol, England. Joseph Withers and his sister Ann (Stone) arrived at Hobart, Tasmania in 1819. Over thirty years later their younger sister, Elizabeth, arrived in Victoria, Australia. It is not known whether Elizabeth went to Tasmania to meet her sister. Her brother Joseph later moved to Ararat, Victoria so they may have met.

John Withers was a tophat manufacturer and two of his sons, George and John stayed in Bristol and followed him into the business.

George and John Withers, hat manufacturers, 81 Castle St, Bristol in 1836
George and John Withers dissolving their partnership 1841,
 The London Gazette Vol 2 1841
Elizabeth Withers was born in Bristol about 1812 and married in 1849 in Clifton, Gloucestershire to David Brainerd Ryland. David was the son of a stationer who also conducted a post office and owned a circulating library. At 14 years of age he had been apprenticed to a chemist and druggist but appears to have been tied up with his father's stationer's business in 1851 when this advertisement appeared.

Bristol Advertisement, 1851

Elizabeth and David Ryland would have heard about Australia from their correspondence with relatives already there. Gold was found in Victoria in 1851 and several of Elizabeth's Stone nephews lived in Victoria. Her siblings, Ann and Joseph were living in Tasmania. David and Elizabeth Ryland decided to migrate and arrived in Melbourne, Victoria on 16 October 1852 on the ship Panama.

They firstly set up business in Melbourne as stationers but they were not successful so they decided to follow the hordes of people moving up to the goldfields. David had a go at gold digging but in 1855 when the position of School Master at a National School at Forest Creek goldfield (now Chewton) near Castlemaine. His wife, Elizabeth, was appointed as Work Mistress. National School fees came in part from the National Board of Education and in part from fees paid in advance by each child.

It wasn't easy. The schoolroom had an attached dwelling but it was all in extremely poor condition and, even though the Rylands ran a very good school, no extra funds for repairs or equipment were forthcoming. Parents weren't keen to send their children to such a place so attendances gradually diminished. The Rylands built a new school on their own land but then the National Board were reluctant to provide assistance. By 1860 things started to improve and David and Elizabeth had a better house to live in. In 1860 David was appointed Town Clerk of the Borough of Chewton.

David Ryland, Town Clerk Mount Alexander Mail 6 May 1863
There was ongoing correspondence to the National Board about the fact that some children attended school even though they didn't pay their fees and, because of the appalling living conditions on the goldfields, many children didn't go to school because they were ill. The death rate of children on the goldfields was very high. Elizabeth Ryland was dismissed by the Board because of the student numbers but continued to work at the school for no wages.

In 1862 the Common Schools Act was passed by the Victorian Parliament so the National Board and the Denominational Board ceased to exist, replaced by a Board of Education. The Forest Creek National School closed in June 1863.

In February 1864 David Ryland opened a new school at the rural community of Laanacoorie under the Board of Education. Laanacoorie is the area where Elizabeth's nephews were farming. As well as teaching David Ryland used his skills as a druggist and chemist in the area because there was no doctor nearby. In October 1868 he was appointed Deputy Electoral Registrar for the Marong Division of the Mandurang District and North-Western Province.

One eveneing David Ryland died suddenly 23 July 1871 at the home, of an aneurysm of the aorta, at the age of 51. Over five hundred people attended his funeral.

Death notice, Mount Alexander Mail  25 Jul 1871

After David's death Elizabeth lived with her nephew, Edward Stone, at Laanacoorie. Seven years later, in May 1878, she was admitted to the Kew Asylum, Melbourne because she'd been found 'wandering at large'. On the admittance file she was noted as 'temperate and quiet', that this was her first attack of lunacy but that it had lasted for two years. The doctor testified that she had dementia and was said to be destructive. Her nephew, Edward, stated that he was unable to attend to her because 'she leaves my house at all times of the night, and goes away in the bush. I am willing to pay anything reasonable while she is in the asylum'. Edward and his wife Chrissy had a young family of six at the time. [Edward's brother Joseph and his wife Margaret also lived in the area. Also their brother Alfred and his wife Sophie and their sister Lucy and her husband William Field.]

Elizabeth was admitted to Kew Asylum on 11 May 1878 and died there in 1881 aged 69 years. Her brother Joseph died the same year. Their sister Ann Stone had died in Tasmania in 1856 following a stroke.

Reference: A journal article 'A Schoolmaster in Goldrush Victoria: David Ryland at Forest Creek 1856-1863' by Alex Stone in Victorian Historical Journal Vol 58, No. 1, March 1987. And also the asylum admission papers.


  1. Congratulations! Your blog is included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    Thank you, Chris

    1. Thankyou Chris. You do an amazing job keeping up with all the updates.


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