Beckley History Society 2014

Local History Page

One of the current studies by the Beckley History Society is that of emigration from Sussex to New South Wales, which took place between 1837 and 1841, carried out under a Government Bounty Scheme.


An interesting aspect of this particular study has been the story of Granny Smith and her Apple, but there are many more that are connected to the 165 Beckley folk, (and many hundreds of others from surrounding villages), who went to Australia during those four years. There must now be countless thousands of Australian descendants who can trace their family roots back to this part of rural Sussex, able to recount the early lives of their ancestors, stretching back for six or more generations. 


This has been the case of Maria Ann Smith (nee Sherwood) who became the famous Granny Smith, known throughout the World, after a seedling apple was named after her.


Following her story, readers will probably want know more about other local folk of that time, some of whom may even be related.  Others will wish to discover the history behind this dramatic mass departure over 160 years ago. It certainly was a stage in both our National and local history that covered the early years of the 19th century, preceded by 40 or so years when the Nation was suffering economic decline following years of war with France as well as the gradual results of industrialisation and changing farming methods. 


Trafalgar and Waterloo were recent events but the cost of final victory in 1815, caused poverty and crime to go hand in hand which, in turn, developed a need for penal colonies. It was in Botany Bay, founded in 1788, where our emigration story begins.


With continuing research taking place all the while it is now possible to trace and follow the lives of other Beckley born folk who also made the journey.  These were poor country people, victims of their time, who so bravely undertook an 18 weeks journey aboard small sailing ships of that period, with the prospect of over 13,000 miles in extremely over crowded conditions.  They must have been most anxious and concerned as to what the future might hold for themselves and their small families, so far away from their place of birth, their families and friends, probably never to see them again.  Many of them had just their basic Christian faith, a hope for the future and a promise of a new life in Australia.


Further Research

In addition to the individual stories of Beckley folk whose lives have already been recorded following their arrival in Australia, research is going on all the time to reveal names and details of parents and siblings left behind and, discovering where the emigrants once lived here in Sussex.  It may be possible, in time, to link each and every Beckley emigrant to his or her life in New South Wales.


This will begin a series of 19th century family sketches of interest to relatives, now and in the future, and will be told in a book entitled "From Britain to New South Wales.  Emigration in the late 1830s". 


The book looks into the background and reasons for such a Bounty Scheme and why free settlers were urgently required then, especially men and women with families, young single women, and those with handicraft, farming and husbandry skills, such as sawyers, brick makers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and farm workers.   At that time life could only offer continuing poverty, with the ever-present prospect of the Parish poorhouse, or Union Workhouse.  Our unfortunate country folk had very little choice. 


Research has disclosed that many more, like Thomas and Maria Ann Smith, through hard work and determination claimed success in a wonderful country of opportunity. It is certain that folk from Beckley, of whom we are immensely proud, played a major part in the early stages of building a great Nation.



Granny Smith

Maria Ann Sherwood was born in Peasmarsh, a small village near Rye in Sussex, just over 200 years ago, in 1799.  Her father worked as an agricultural labourer and Maria also went into farm work. At 19 years of age she married Thomas Smith, an agricultural labourer from Beckley.  They were married at Ebony just across the border in Kent.


They lived for the next 19 years in Beckley, during which time there were 8 children.  In 1838, with their 5 younger surviving children, Thomas and Maria emigrated to New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on 27th November of that year, on board the "Lady Nugent".   Their children were Thomas aged 16, Stephen 13. Charles 9, Sarah 6 and Maria Ann aged 1 year.

Once the Smith family had settled in, Thomas found employment with a Mr Smart, of Kissing Point in Ryde, a wealthy auctioneer and land agent. Thomas Senior was hired then for the princely sum of 25 a year, plus rations.  Food for a family plus the annual wage would have amounted to certainly more than he could have expected for working a 6-day week, here in Sussex.


It is thought that Thomas later worked on the Ryedale Estate of Major Edward Darvall and that young Thomas was working as a cook for Major Darvall's brother Frederick, at South Creek.  Thomas Junior and his brother Stephen settled at South creek but continued to bring their children to St Anne's at Ryde for baptism. It was at St Anne's in 1842 that Thomas and Maria Ann's ninth child, William, was baptised at the age of 2 months.


In 1855 and 1856, Thomas Smith senior bought, for 605, two blocks of land, totalling 24 acres, on the edge of the Field of Mars Common. To have afforded such a sum, in so short a while, proved that Thomas Smith and family had worked hard and, thus far, had certainly put their growing skills to good use.  When Thomas died in 1876 he bequeathed the farm to Thomas and Charles who sold their shares in 1880 and 1892 respectively. 


The Granny Smith Memorial Park marks part of the southern boundary of the farm.  It is not known what had happened to Samuel and Frances Smith or whether they remained in contact with Thomas and Maria Ann.

Thomas and Maria Smith, like their neighbours were fruit farmers. From the earliest days of European settlement the Ryde District had enjoyed a reputation for its fruit.  Oranges, apricots, grapes, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apples and pears flourished.  Some orchardists, as they were known, specialised in fruit varieties of their own raising, including seedling apples.  One such was the Granny Smith.


The earliest account of this variety appeared in the "Farmer and Settler" of 25th June 1924, in an article by Herbert Rumsey, a Dundas fruit grower and local historian.  He interviewed a local fruit grower Edwin Small who recalled that in 1868 he and his father had been invited by Maria to examine a seedling apple growing by the creek on her farm.  She explained that the seedling had developed from the remains of some French crab apples grown in Tasmania.  The Granny Smith is today recognised as a fixed mutation or 'sport'.


Her apple never became a commercial variety in her lifetime but continued to be cultivated by local fruit farmers.  It was exhibited as a "Smith's Seedling" in the 1880 Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show.  In the 1891 show "Granny Smith's seedlings" took the first prize for cooking apples. 


By 1892 many growers were exhibiting the variety and, in 1895, Albert H.Benson, fruit expert for the NSW Department of Agriculture, named "Granny Smith's seedlings" as a suitable variety for export.  He also initiated the first large-scale cultivation of the apple at the Government Experimental Station at Bathhurst.


Maria Ann died on 9th March 1870 and was buried in St Anne's cemetery, Ryde, and Thomas died 6 years later. Their headstone still stands in the churchyard.


The above information was researched by John Spurway great-great grandson of Granny Smith, together with Megan Martin, Local Studies Manager at Ryde Library Services from 1988-1997.  Ryde City Council



Granny Smith BHS 2003


Dennis Ward

 Landing Records of Thomas and Mary Smith (nee Sherwood)      
SMITH  010  Maria  01 - - SMITH Thomas & Mary Ann  SHERWOOD Mary Ann
SMITH  010  Sarah  07 - - SMITH Thomas & Mary Ann  SHERWOOD Mary Ann
SMITH  010  Charles  08 - - SMITH Thomas & Mary Ann  SHERWOOD Mary Ann
SMITH  010  Stephen  13 - - SMITH Thomas & Mary Ann  SHERWOOD Mary Ann
SMITH  010 Thomas  16 - - SMITH Thomas & Mary Ann SHERWOOD Mary Ann
SMITH  010  Mary Ann 38  Peasmarsh SSX Servant  SHERWOOD John & Hannah -
SMITH  010  Thomas 39  Beckley  SSX Labourer  SMITH Richard & Ann -
 Landing Records of Samuel and Frances Smith (nee Rose)      
SMITH  010  Mary Anne 01      (02ms) - - SMITH Samuel & Frances -
SMITH  010  Frances 22  Sandhurst KENT  Servant  ROSE Thomas -
SMITH  010  Samuel 21  Beckley SSX Labourer  SMITH Thomas & Mary Ann  SHERWOOD Mary Ann
 It is assumed that Samuel is the son of Thomas and Mary Anne      
 From family it has been established that Mary's name was mispelt and is       
 Maria Ann after whom her youngest child is named.      

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