George Phillips (1828-1891) and Mary Duncan Turnbull (1838-1916)

Our Great Great Grandparents

George Phillips was born in Islington on 21 February 1828, the fifth child and fourth son of James Phillips and Mary Ann Hurran. He was baptised at St. John Islington on 25 March 1838, when he was ten years of age (See his baptism record [PDF - 304k]).

Mary Duncan Turnbull was born at Parramatta New South Wales on 27 October 1838, the fourth child and third daughter of Samuel Perry Turnbull and Mary Duncan. She was the first of our ancestors to be born in Australia, and was probably named for her sister, Mary Menzies Turnbull (1836-1837), who died at sea during the family’s voyage to Australia. In 1844, when Mary was around 5 years of age, the family relocated to the “Maneroo” (Monaro) region of southern New South Wales. According to Mary’s obituary, the family first settled in Bukalong, about 15 kilometers north of Bombala and 10 kilometers west of Bibbenluke.

George Phillips grew up in the London borough of Islington. In the 1841 census (JPG - 122k) the thirteen-year-old George was living with his parents and six siblings at Archway Place in Upper Holloway. Holloway had been mainly rural until the 18th century but was at George’s time becoming increasingly built up as London expanded.

By the 1851 census George, then 23 years of age, was not recorded as living with his parents. There are only two 1851 census listings for a George Phillips born in London in 1828. One was married with two children and living in Brighton, where he still lived in 1861. The other was a soldier at the newly-built Fulwood Barracks near Preston, Lancashire. Army records show that the soldier at Fulwood Barracks was born in Islington about 1828, so in all likelihood this is our George Phillips.

George joined the 85th (Bucks Volunteers) Regiment of Foot (Regimental Number 2854) as a private on 30 June 1849, when he was 21 years of age. At the time of his enlistment the 85th Regiment was in Ireland, with headquarters in Waterford and detachments in New Ross, Duncannon Fort, Piltown, Wexford and Dungarvan. Whether George joined the regiment there is unknown. The 85th Regiment returned to England in late May 1850 and went into barracks at Fulwood until mid-April 1851 when the Regiment headquarters was relocated to Hull (with detachments also in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Scarborough).1 George spent 29 days in hospital during the period from January to March 1851, indicating that he may have become ill or had sustained a serious injury. This presumably is what precipitated his discharge from the army at Hull on 29 April 1851.

What happened to George immediately after his discharge, however, is unclear. He was definitely living in New South Wales by 1857-58,2 so some time between mid-1851 and 1857 he had found his way to Australia. He is definitely not listed as an assisted immigrant to either New South Wales or Victoria, so he must have arrived as either an unassisted immigrant or as a member of a ship’s crew. Possible arrivals found to date are:

Whatever the details of George’s arrival in Australia, his subsequent history suggests that his motive for immigration was probably gold.

George’s locations between the time of his arrival and 1859 is unknown, but at some time before 1860 he must have come to Kiandra, where he met Mary Duncan Turnbull.4 Based on George’s death record, they supposedly married at Kiandra, but there is no record of that marriage, while there is a record of them marrying at Grenfell in 1869. In any case, they had ten children together:

  1. George Robert (1859-1931) – no registration of his birth appears to have been made. He married Eliza Leonard at Bombala in 1881, and they had two children, Emily Ellen (1882-1929) and Mary Lillian (1885-1962). George died at Bombala.
  2. James (1860-1863) – his birth was registered in 1861 at Cooma, New South Wales, as “James Turnbull”, and no father was given on the register. His death was registered at Burrangong, near Young, New South Wales, under the name James Phillips, with George now shown as father.
  3. Charles Edmund (our ancestor - 1863-1947)
  4. Samuel (b.1866) – his birth was registered at Gundagai, New South Wales, but no other details are known. He may have died young, although no death record exists.
  5. Joel (1868-1888) – his birth was registered at Forbes, New South Wales. He does not appear to have married before he died at Bombala. He is buried with his father and brother Watkin in Bombala Cemetery.
  6. Mary Frances (1871-1921) – her birth was registered at Grenfell, New South Wales. She married William Beileiter in 1897, and they had three children: Gladys Irene (1897-1976), Harold William (1900-1980) and Donald Roy (1908-1983). Mary died at Bombala.
  7. Agnes (1873-1969) – her birth was registered at Forbes. She married Henry Littleproud in Sydney in 1900 and they had four children: George Henry (1901-1964), Elsie Maud (b.1902), Agnes Emma (b.1906) and Nita May (b.1910). Agnes died in Chinchilla, Queensland.
  8. Catherine Emily (1875-1965) – her birth was registered at Bombala. She married George Rochester at St Leonards, New South Wales in 1902and they had seven children: Mary Frances (1903-1980), Catherine Emily (b.1904), George Michael (1906-1977), Vera Evelyn (b.1908), John Henry (1909-1914), Albert Edward (1912-1929) and Evelyn Annie (b.1918). Catherine died at Burwood, New South Wales.
  9. William Henry (1878-1965) – his birth was registered at Bombala. He married Clara Batten around 1905 and they Had three children: George William (b.1906), Edith (1907-1936) and Muriel (b.1909). William died at Liverpool, New South Wales.
  10. Watkin Maurice (1880-1882) – born and died at Bombala. He is buried with his father and brother Joel in Bombala Cemetery.

George Phillips and Mary Duncan Turnbull

George and Mary. Date unknown. Source: Monaro Pioneers web site


From their children’s births and other clues it is possible to reconstruct a broad picture of George and Mary’s life together.
They probably left Kiandra at the end of its short-lived 1859-1861 gold rush. The Kiandra Historical Society web site states 'Dubbed Mount Rascal due to frequency of bushranging and robberies, there were anti-Chinese riots, while the antics of one of the most controversial Gold Commissioners in the colony led to a Parliamentary Inquiry'. There is a photo of some miner's huts at Kiandra and a pencil drawing of Kiandra on the web site too, which give a good indication of the conditions that George and family might have lived in, although a great many miners just lived in tents! By March 1861 the Sydney Morning Herald was reporting 'Great exodus from Kiandra... nearly all gone to Lambing Flat'. Read more at the Monaro Pioneers web site.

The family was next to be found in the Young area in 1863, where Charles was born and James died. Gold had been discovered at Young in 1860, but George and Mary could not have arrived there before 1861 since James’ birth was registered at Cooma. This makes it unlikely that George was in Young during the infamous anti-Chinese Lambing Flat riots of 1860 and 1861.

Between 1864 and 1866 the family was in the Gundagai region. In August 1864 George was arrested at Gundagai “…charged on warrant with assaulting one Samuel Fifield, while in the discharge of his duty as Bailiff of Court of Requests, at Gundagai…”.5 No other details of this incident are known.

By 1867 the family had relocated again, this time to the Grenfell area, where gold had been discovered the previous year. In August 1867 there was an interesting law case involving George which was reported in the local press:

Mining Case.—On Tuesday last George Phillips was summoned by James Eva, for trespassing and encroaching on claim No. 1 South, “Evening Star Reef”, two shares in which claim were alleged by complainant to be at the time lawfully represented by him. The case was heard before the Police Magistrate. According to the complainant’s statement he represented two full shares in the claim, or one-third, but was himself the owner of but half a share. Three men represented six men’s ground until a crushing according to the regulations. He last worked on the claim about half an hour on Saturday the 10th August; could not say that he did anything on the previous day, but on the four previous days used the pick in the shaft something like half an hour each day, “off and on”. He believed the share and half, represented by him, was divided into halves and quarters. He had never worked in the claim a whole day. He was aware that defendant had “jumped” the two shares on Monday, and that he was at work in the claim, but said nothing to him until Wednesday evening, because he knew defendant could not hold them without his (Eva’s) permission. On Thursday evening himself and his mate Hutton objected to defendant’s occupation, when he refused to give it up, and was, therefore, summoned to the Court.—The defendant said that he had taken possession of the two shares on the 12th instant as abandoned ground, and worked continuously in the claim for the next three days without interruption, although complainant knew he was in occupation of the shares. Between three and four o’clock on Thursday, complainant and John Hutton came to the claim and disputed it with him.—The Police Magistrate decided in favour of the defendant on the evidence of complainant alone, as he had acknowledged he had done no work in the claim for several days previous to Phillips entering upon it. The mere coming on a claim and remaining there half an hour each day was not continuously working such as the regulations required; but was part of a system of shepherding that was becoming too prevalent on this gold-field, and which he was determined to do his best to put down. Some of the sleeping shareholders who were present, one or two of whom had apparently paid a high figure for their interests, expressed their surprise at the decision, being under the impression that sleeping interests were not jumpable. Mr. Dalton said the law gave them no protection; they should have seen that they were properly represented.—The complainant gave notice of appeal.6

On 24 July 1869, with five children already born to them, George and Mary married at Grenfell. The family remained in this district until the Grenfell goldfields were largely played out.

In 1874 the family moved to Bombala, and George seems to have ceased gold mining as a full-time occupation and become a labourer. By 1885 he was keeping a billiard room on Maybe Street, Bombala. On 23 March 1885 the billiard room suffered an attack:

Fire. - On Monday night some evil disposed persons walked deliberately up to the windows of Mr. George Phillips’ billiard-room, broke the glass, and set fire to the curtains. Fortunately the fire went out in time, or the result would have been disastrous, as the building is a wooden one.7

The police apparently suspected a “resident of the district”.8

In June of 1886, George had some further trouble:

George Phillips was charged [at the Bombala Licensing Court] with allowing his billiard room to be opened after hours, on 18th May, viz., 10 minutes past 1a.m. Pleaded guilty. Find [sic]£2 and 4s 10d. costs, the lowest penalty that could be inflicted.9

On a more positive side, George may have written a brief article for the local newspaper in January of 1886 describing a trip he made to the Tuross gold diggings:10

A Trip to the Tuross Diggings.
(By George Phillips, of Bombala)
We starred from Bombala and got as far as Charley Taylor's, where we camped. The next morning, we pushed on for the diggings. I must tell you that we travelled in a buggy. We got safely to Nimitybelle, where we inquired about the rush, but we found that there was only one person who had gone from Nimitybelle, Sam. Maxwell. Anyhow, we made as far as we could with the buggy, and a couple of our party went in search of the diggings, but they came back after finding the creek or river just above the rush. We then left our buggy and the old nag, and proceeded to the place of action. We found about thirty persons on the ground. I could see at a glance the place was no good, but I thought it was better to give the place a fair trial. We stopped for three days prospecting. We tried the prospecting claim, but could only get the colour. Then we worked the creek up and down, but could discover nothing. The diggers are leaving daily. The country looks splendid, the grass being three feet high. The place is infested with snakes. We then started for home, and after a good deal of trouble we found our nag quite blown from the splendid grass, which was a throw-in for him after being used to picking up gravel instead of grass about Bombala. We got home last night about 12 o'clock, and the inhabitants of Bombala were in slumbers. The diggings are about 42 miles from Bombala the way we took. I would not advise any person to attempt to go to the rush. This is all I know about it, and all I want to. I will say, good night, lads.
Bombala, 20th January.11

George died of a “liver complaint” which he had suffered from the previous ten months on 8 January 1891 - death certificate (PDF - 320k). He was buried at Bombala cemetery on 10 January and his marker still stands there.

See caption
George Phillips' headstone, Bombala cemetery. Photo by Phillip Dwyer.

His probate identified the following assets and debts:

The net value of his estate before duties was £17 9s.

Unfortunately nothing specific is known about Mary during George’s lifetime. She presumably spent her days caring for her increasing number of children, the eldest surviving of whom was only 13 at George’s death. Mary is known to have been highly proficient at crocheting, producing a crocheted rug with the Lord’s Prayer which was almost twice her own height. This work is supposed to have been displayed in the shop window of Anthony Hordern & Sons department store in Sydney in the early 1900s, but its whereabouts is now unknown to the family. More info and photos on Mary's page.

Mary lived for another twenty-five years after George’s death. In June 1907 she had an accident:

Mrs. Mary Phillips, of Bombala, was considerably burned last week, through accidently overturning a lighted kerosene lamp.14

Mary died of cancer on 4 February 1916. The Bombala Times printed an obituary the same day:

After a long and painful illness, Mrs. G. Phillips, senior, died this morning at her residence, Maharatta Street, Bombala. The trouble was an internal growth, and until this illness, Mrs. Phillips had been a remarkably healthy and vigorous woman. She was known far and wide for her kindness and good nature, and her help in times of sickness was frequently sought and readily given. “Granny” will be missed and regretted by many in this town and district. She was a rough-diamond of the old school with a generous nature that led her always to the front when a kindly womanly hand was needed. Born at Parramatta, she was 78 years of age at death. She came to Bukalong as a girl with her parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. S. Turnbull. After her marriage with Mr. George Phillips she spent some years with her husband on various gold-fields, including Kiandra. In 1874 she returned to Bombala and settled here for the remainder of her days. The family consists of three daughters – Mrs. W. Beileiter, Mrs. H. Littleproud and Mrs. Rochester; and three sons – Messrs. George, Charles, and William. The funeral will take place to-morrow afternoon.


1 Locations sourced from: Smith, Henry Stooks. (1851), An Alphabetical List of the Officers of the Eighty-Fifth, Bucks Volunteers, The King’s Light Infantry Regiment, from 1800 to 1850.  London: Simpkin, Marshall , and Co. p. xii

2 His January 1891 death record says that he had been in the colony for 30 years (so since 1861), but this figure is probably an approximation by his son George Robert Phillips. The death record also says that George married Mary Turnbull at Kiandra New South Wales aged 28, which would make it in 1856, but this is unlikely since gold was not discovered at Kiandra until 1859. Again according to the death record, George’s first child with Mary Turnbull, George Robert, was 32 years of age at George’s death, meaning he was born in 1858.

3 There are no matching records for unassisted migrants arriving in Sydney or other New South Wales ports. George may have arrived in Victoria and tried the goldfields there before moving to the New South Wales goldfields.

4 There is evidence that Mary’s father, Samuel Perry Turnbull, was at Kiandra in 1860.

5 New South Wales Police Gazette, 17 August 1864.

6 The Mining Record and Grenfell General Advertiser, Saturday 24 August 1867. p.3.

7 The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, Wednesday 1 April 1885.

8 New South Wales Police Gazette, 8 April 1885.

9 The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, Wednesday 2 June 1886.

10 This article could alternatively have been written by George’s son, George Robert Phillips. There was also then a hotel keeper at Bombala called George Phillips who could have written the article. The tone of the article, however, suggests someone who had experience at gold diggings.

11 The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, Saturday 23 January 1886. p. 3

12 Two allotments: “No. 7 of Section No. 1 and No. 5 of Section No. 6”.

13 “1 Dray and one buggy both so old as to be useless. Ironwork of some worth.”

14 Delegate Argus, Friday 21 June 1907. p. 4.


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