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This is the amazing account of three generations of a family spanning over 150 years – 1785 to 1940. The main players are John Frost, his stepson William Foster Geach and his son also named William Foster Geach.
For clarity we will from now on use the terms “William Foster Geach snr.” and “William Foster Geach jnr.” when it may not otherwisebe clear which William we refer to. However, we have not come across any instance of either of these individuals being named thus in their lifetimes.
Some of the episodes have been well documented already so these will be skimmed over. However, many of the other incidents have never been gathered together into one narrative before so we will be reporting these in some depth and citing our sources.
The work appears under three headings, John Frost, William Foster Geach snr. and William Foster Geach jnr., though the lives of each individual actually span more than one section.
John Frost was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, Britain, in 1785. Few would argue that he is the city’s most well-known and important historical figure – he led around five thousand well-armed protesters into the very centre of Newport in 1839, was charged with treason and was sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered. This sentence was later reduced to transportation for life.
Much has been written about John Frost and the Chartist movement (a campaign for voting rights for men) so we will concentrate on the parts of his life which impinge on our story.
Frost was brought up by his grandfather, a bootmaker, and spent much of his early years in Bristol and London as an apprentice draper. He returned to Newport in 1806 and set up his own business.
In 1812 he married Mary Geach, a widow. Mary’s first husband, Charles Geach, had died in 1807 leaving her with two children William Foster Geach (born 1805) and Mary Foster Geach (born 1806). This is where William Foster Geach snr. enters our story.
John Frost was now possibly in line to inherit a substantial sum of money, as his wife’s uncle was a wealthy businessman by the name of William Foster. Issues about the will of Mary’s uncle, and other arguments with local solicitors and land owners, contributed to John Frost’s bankruptcy in 1823 and a loathing of the attitude of many of the wealthy towards the common man. Nevertheless Frost became Mayor of Newport in 1837 and a magistrate.
Young William Foster Geach would have been just six or seven years of age when his mother remarried. It is not known how much part John Frost played in the upbringing of his stepson. We do know that William’s sister lived with her great-aunt, Margaret Foster (William Foster’s widow). And it may well be that William (Foster Geach) did also, certainly she arranged for him to train as a solicitor in Bristol. John Frost and Mary went on to have 9 children, so it would appear that John had no objection the patter of tiny feet and would have been willing to also raise his stepson.
In 1822 William Foster Geach was articled to Bristol solicitor William Bevan for a period of five years. This was arranged by his great-aunt Margaret Foster. And so, in 1828, WFG commenced work as a qualified solicitor at first in Bristol and then, in 1830, Pontypool.
This was an important moment in time for William, he benefitted from the will of his great aunt who died in 1829 and in 1830 he married Elizabeth Williams. A son, Herbert Williams Geach, was born in 1831.
See the Frost - Geach Family Tree
With his wife Elizabeth standing to inherit money from her cousin, Rachel Herbert, his own inheritance from his great aunt, his business as a solicitor and other business enterprises the prospects for William’s family looked good.
He bought and sold properties, announced he would open two branches of a bank and operated as a corn merchant. But there were rumours of dodgy deals. His position became more and more insecure. In May 1839 he was declared bankrupt, his business being described as a corn merchant; and rumours of dodgy dealing, including forgery, were coming to a head.
Then in November 1839 his step-father, John Frost, led the chartist protestors on their march into Newport. In December Frost was on trial for high treason. William could have turned his back on his stepfather, with his own situation rapidly deteriorating as the case for forgery was building, but instead he put time, effort and skill into defending him in court.
Of course John Frost was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. However the sentence was reduced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), possibly partly due to the efforts of William Foster Geach. On 1st of February 1840, at one o’clock in the morning, John Frost, William Jones, and Zephaniah Williams were hurriedly taken in chains by a van guarded by lancers to Chepstow. Here the prisoners boarded a steamer which took them to a prison hulk, the York, anchored off Portsmouth. On 24th of February 1840 they were moved to the Mandarin and started the long voyage to Van Diemen’s Land.
John Frost and the other prisoners arrived in Tasmania on 30th of June 1840. It may be worth mentioning at this point some of the crimes committed by the others on board. These ranged from ‘stealing a silk handkerchief’ through ‘desertion’ (court martial) to 'rape’. (See the link at the top left of this page to our database of the records of the other convicts on board the Mandarin.)
By the summer of that year the case against WFG for forgery had come to a head, he was tried at Monmouth Assizes in August 1840 and found himself before Mr Baron Parke – one of the Judges at the trial of his step-father. But this time he was the accused - not one of the defence lawyers!
We are not going to go into the details of the case, but basically WFG was accused of forging the signatures of Rachel Herbert and Edmund Williams on documents which promised to pay out money to the bearer (up to £1000 and £2000) should WFG not have the funds to pay a debt. Rachel Herbert was a cousin of his wife and she denied signing any such document as did Edmund Williams.
For a detailed account of WFG’s dealings and trial see the book “William Foster Geach” by David Mills.
The verdict was guilty, the punishment transportation to Tasmania for twenty years. In fact, according to the Cambrian newspaper (22nd August 1840), Geach admitted that he had forged Rachel Herbert’s signature on bills totalling to £20 000! His defence was that he had never called for any payment to be made relating to documents he had forged… the purpose had been to gain financial credibility and that neither Rachel Herbert nor Edmund Williams had lost money due to these forgeries. However he was found guilty, as he had used forgery to obtain credit which he would not have otherwise have gained.
Geach was taken to the prison hulk “Stirling Castle” off Devonport and on 7th September 1940 began his voyage to Tasmania on board the “Lord Lynoch” just 23 days after his sentence was passed.
Was his sentence a fair one? Was he hurried away in order to avoid protest? Well maybe this is one’s first response. It does seem a bit of a coincidence that he should follow his stepfather, being transported just nine months after acting for his defence. On the other hand, in the course of the trial he did admit forging signatures on documents used for financial purposes, and he was a solicitor. When one looks at the minor offences that other prisoners were transported for, e.g. stealing a silk handkerchief, stealing boots, stealing a coat and stealing a lamb, the sentence does not look all that severe.
The record book of convicts on board “Lord Lynoch” provides us with a quite detailed description of William: Height 5ft 6½ins, age 33, complexion florid, head oval, hair black (nearly bald), whiskers black, visage oval, forehead high, eyebrows black, eyes brown, nose medium, mouth small, chin small dimpled.
Entries continued to be made in the record book after the arrival of the prisoners in Tasmania. It also affords us the following information: He arrived in Tasmania on the 5th of February 1841, his conduct on board ship had been most excellent. He spent two years’ probation in a work gang and in 1842 was a clerk. He was praised for “his meticulous conduct in apprehending James John Nicholson an absconder and for assisting in the apprehending of two other convicts”. He was made a javelin man – a sort of guard or escort, like a trustee.
In June 1845 he was given his ticket of leave, this entitled him to work and live within a certain district or colony. He could hire himself out or be self-employed and could now acquire property. If called for, he had to appear before a magistrate and church attendance was compulsory. Permission was needed before moving to another district and should he want to travel to another area he would need to carry a document like a passport. (This ticket of leave could have been withdrawn for bad behaviour or failing to comply with all the terms.)
His conditional pardon was approved in July 1848 for “Having held a ticket of leave twenty one months, and his meritous conduct on two different occasions in capturing offenders, and preventing crime having been specially noted”. (Tasmania, pardons, 1847 – 1848.) Geach was now free on condition that he didn’t return to Britain. (Some sources say that a conditional pardon only allowed the holder to go anywhere in Australia.)
On the 30th June 1852 Mr Richard Greenaway a solicitor from Pontypool in Monmouthshire wrote to Mr Secretary Walpole asking whether a free pardon had been granted to Geach. He was advised that it did not appear so and that “any representations you may think proper to make in this convict’s favour will receive Mr Walpole’s consideration.” Was the solicitor acting on behalf of William Foster Geach or maybe his wife, Mrs Elizabeth Geach, wanted to know the legal situation?
This is the last record we have found that with certainty relates to William Foster Geach snr. We have not been able to find a marriage record for him or a death record.
We will now look at what happened to those left behind in Britain, before some speculation about William Foster Geach snr. and a look at William Foster Geach jnr.
William’s sister, Mary Foster Lawrence, died in November 1840, only two months after his convict ship set sail for Tasmania.
We have found nothing to show conclusively that William’s wife, Elizabeth, ever followed him to Tasmania, though there is a mention of a Mrs Geach running a school there also a Mrs Foster doing likewise. [See later in this article] Maybe this is why some writers have claimed she did emigrate at least for a while.
The Wales 1841 census shows Elizabeth Geach and nine year old son, Herbert Geach, living at Skirrid Cottage, Abergavenny. The head of the house was (what appears to read) Rev. John Whitheaston.
In the 1851 Welsh census Elizabeth Geach was staying with her cousin, Rachel Herbert, in “The Little Hill”, Abergavenny. Elizabeth was 52 and recorded herself as being married. Rachel was unmarried and ‘landowner’ was given as her occupation. It seems Rachel lived comfortably, as a cook, house maid, coachman and general servant lived in.
It could be significant that Elizabeth gave her status as ‘married’ as, legally, she could have remarried after her transported husband had been away overseas for more than 7 years.
We have to turn to the English 1851 census to find Henry Geach – name given as William Henry Geach – living as a lodger in Birmingham. His occupation was ‘clerk’.
Sadly Henry William Geach died in Kings Norton, Birmingham, in 1855, just 22 or 23 years of age.
The 1861 Welsh census had Elizabeth still living with her cousin Rachel at Little Hill House, Abergavenny. Interestingly, though, Elizabeth Geach was now recorded as ‘widow’. Was she now using the seven year rule or had her husband died? Or was this a result of the enquiry made by the Pontypool solicitor Mr Richard Greenaway into the status of WFG mentioned earlier?
Rachel Herbert died in 1870, her estate was worth more than £8 000.
In 1871 Elizabeth Geach was a lodger in Regent Street, Abergavenny receiving ‘income from dividends’. (1871 Welsh census)
In 1881 Elizabeth was a lodger at Portland Villa, Abergavenny. She was 81 years of age and described as an annuitant. (1881 Welsh census)
Elizabeth Geach died in 1885 leaving an estate of over £10 000.
We will now look at the early years of William Foster Geach jnr. and try find some sort of connection with what we know about William Foster Geach snr.
An internet search for "William Foster Geach" turns up just two individuals – it seems most unlikely that they are not father and son and we will outline what evidence we have that this was the case. We emphasise, though, that we can not state with certainty they were even related.
William Foster Geach jnr. died in Elsternwick, Victoria, 1940, aged 81, therefore he was born around 1859. His death record (registration year 1940, registration place Victoria, registration number 10958) stated that his father was William Geach and his mother Geraldine Nicholson. The Australian death records often gave the mother’s maiden name, so this might not have been her name at the time William was born.
Clearly we need to find a link between WFG snr and Geraldine Nicholson. However, we have not been able to find a marriage or any other connection. In our research we have found much about Geraldine who lived until 1913, but before we go into that we will look at another valuable source of information about the early days of William Foster Geach – an obituary.
The Age, Melbourne, Victoria, Monday 28th October 1940, reported:
“DEATH OF MR. W. F. GEACH
City Business Man.
Mr. William Foster Geach, senior partner of the firm of J. B. Were & Son, members of the Stock Exchange of Melbourne, died on Saturday morning after a brief illness.
The late Mr. Geach was born on July 31, 1859, at St. Kilda. His father, William Geach, died before he was born, and his mother did not survive the birth of her son. Brought up by a guardian who went off to the New Zealand gold fields and left him alone at the age of 16 years, the boy, who had been educated at Wesley College, had then to turn to and earn his living. He obtained a position as lad porter with the Hobson's Bay Railway Company at the South Yarra station. Then came a position in a solicitor's office in the city, followed by employment as law clerk, with a solicitor in Deniliquin.
After spending some time in legal work in Sydney, Mr. Geach came to Melbourne to take a position with the share-broking firm of Clarke and Co. In 1889 he entered the employ of J. B. Were and Son, the firm then comprising Messrs. F. W. Were and A. B. Were and Mr. F. J. Fleming. For very many years Mr. Geach handled for the firm its inter-State, London and New Zealand exchange business with the trading banks, and he became well known around the city.
He became a member of the Stock Exchange, and was made a partner in the firm' in 1906. The partnership was increased in March, 1914, by the admittance of Mr. Staniforth Ricketson, a nephew of Mr. F. W. Were, who retired two years later, when his interest was bought by the three remaining partners. Upon the death of Mr. Fleming in 1926, Mr. Geach became the senior member of the firm.
Mr. Geach was a member of the Savage, R.A.C.V., C.T.A. and Stock Exchange clubs. He was of a kindly, charitable disposition, and assisted many a deserving cause and person, but he did his good deeds by stealth, and seldom allowed his benefactions to become known. Mr. Geach was twice married, and is survived by his widow, formerly Miss Ada Thureau, of Castlemaine; also by children of his first marriage - Mr. Reginald Geach, of Melbourne; Mrs. Hugh McCullough, Woodend; Mrs. Walter Mcintosh, Rushworth; and Mrs. Alex. Robertson, of Seville. A grandson is Mr. Edwin Geach, of the National Bank of Australasia Ltd., Sydney.
As a mark of respect for the late Mr. Geach, the morning call of the Stock Exchange of Melbourne on Saturday was adjourned for five minutes. The chairman (Mr. W. Forster Woods) paid a tribute to the late member.
A service will be held at Sleight’s chapel this morning at 9.30.”
A photograph of WFG accompanied the article
William Foster Geach jnr. had done well for himself from a not very promising start! This man had an eventful life and we will go into that later. For now let’s concentrate on his early years. The above account gives us a birth date, July 31st 1859, and place, St. Kilda. It says his father was William Geach and that his mother died in childbirth. This can’t have been Geraldine Nicholson as she lived until 1913, so maybe Geraldine was the guardian or married to the guardian who brought him up and went off to New Zealand when he was 16 (around 1875). Or maybe the newspaper was deliberately given false information.
The only way into this is to look at the life of Geraldine Nicholson, and here we meet a slight problem – there were two Geraldine Nicholsons – mother and daughter.
Geraldine Nicholson jnr was born around 1836. In the 1841 English census Geraldine, age 5, was living with her mother, also Geraldine, and father, Robert, in Southwark, London. Her father was a hat manufacturer.
Her parents had married on the 6th January 1833, her mother’s maiden name was Mahon. (London Metropolitan Archives, Christ Church, Southwark, Register of marriages, P92/CTC, Item 030.) She was born in 1816. Her maiden name, Mahon, is important as it later shows we have the correct Geraldine Nicholson.
Geraldine’s father had died in April 1846 (London Metropolitan Archives, Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, 1846) and in 1851 she was living in Colchester with her mother and two sisters, Anne aged 17 and Ada aged 9. The girls’ mother was a hat manufacturer employing one man. (1851 Census, England)
The family had moved to Australia by July 1855 as this announcement appeared in The Melbourne Argus, on Tuesday 17th July 1855: “On the 12th inst. by special licence, at Castlemaine, William Wilson, of the Taradale Hotel, Back Creek, to Anne Mahon, eldest daughter of Mrs. Geraldine Nicholson, Elizabeth-street, Melbourne.”
Announcements of the marriage of the remaining sisters followed…
In the Melbourne Argus, on Tuesday 29th April, 1856: “On the 26th inst., at St. James’s Church, Melbourne, Lionel James D’Alton, to Geraldine, second daughter of Mrs. Geraldine Nicholson, Melbourne.”
Then on Tuesday 8th December 1863: “Rutherford Nicholson. - On the 5th inst., at the residence of the bride’s mother, Taradale, by the Rev. J. Stanley Lowe, James Rutherford Esq., of Bathurst, N.S.W., to Ada, youngest daughter of Mrs. Geraldine Nicholson. No cards.”
So, which Geraldine was being referred to as the mother of William Foster Geach jnr.on his death certificate?
Geraldine Nicholson snr was born in 1816, and would have been 42 or 43 when WFG jnr was born. It is possible, then, that she was the mother.
In 1859, when WFG jnr was born, Geraldine jnr was married to Lionel James D’alton. Could this be a name assumed by Geach snr? Here a tragedy enters the unrolling events. For Lionel was lost, drowned, in a violent storm off the coast of Anglesey, Wales. This announcement appeared in the death notices of the Melbourne Argus, Friday 20th January, 1860: “On the 26th October, 1859, drowned by shipwreck, in the Royal Charter, Lionel James D’Alton, formerly of Limerick, Ireland.”
The Royal Charter had sailed from Melbourne on 25th August 1859. She was wrecked in a severe storm in Red Wharf Bay, near Bangor, Wales, and only around 40 of the nearly 500 on board survived. (Different accounts give different figures.) The ship had stopped off briefly at Cobh (near Cork) in Ireland and was heading for Liverpool.
The only full passenger list to exist went down with the ship. However, all but the late boarders appear on a database at the Public Record Office Victoria website (link). L Dalton is there, his age is given as 39. (Also listed is W. Wilson, maybe Dalton’s brother in law?)
Many of the passengers were miners, having worked in the Australian gold fields. The ship was carrying boxes of gold valued at £322 440 – tens of millions of pounds in today’s money. Also, many of the men carried gold in their clothing for safe keeping which may explain the very high death toll.
It is tempting to think that Lionel Dalton was William Foster Geach returning to his home country, and this tragic death under an assumed name would explain why we have been unable to find a death record for him. We will not speculate more about this for now but, instead, will delve into what Geraldine D’Alton (nee Nicholson) did next.
It looks like mother, Geraldine Nicholson, was in the hotel business and her daughter Geraldine D’Alton had some connection with it. Both these names arise in notices about licences being granted. In 1857 a licence was granted to Geraldine Nicholson for the Taradale Hotel, Taradale. In August 1864 application to transfer a publican’s licence for the St. Kilda Family Hotel from Geraldine Nicholson to Geraldine D'Alton was granted only for this to be transferred to William Iredale in November of that year.
In 1866 announcements appeared in local papers that Geraldine Nicholson, late publican, Taradale, was insolvent with liabilities of £245 and assets of £85.
On the 11th of December 1867 Geraldine D'Alton married William Digby Coleman 'of Ballarat'. Now, he could well be the guardian who went off to the New Zealand gold fields and left William Foster Geach alone at the age of 16 years (see the obituary earlier). He was not a reliable, trustworthy man!
Newspaper reports in October 1870 (e.g. The Ballarat Courier, Thursday 6 October 1870, page 2) tell of William Digby Coleman's part in the 'Revival Swindle'. During the trial a shopkeeper gave evidence that Coleman had purchased a book of gold leaf and a camel hair pencil. When the shopkeeper asked what these were for Coleman replied that he was going to "do some tidlywinking".In fact the gold leaf used to make mine deposits look like gold. Coleman and his collaborators were found guilty of having “conspired to obtain money under false pretences… of having artificially gilded a barren quartz reef, and made it appear to run some half a dozen ounces to the ton.” They were each sentenced to two years' hard labour for the 'bold and dangerous scheme'.
In 1876 William Digby Coleman was accused of threatening to murder his wife! On March 26th he was charged, on warrant issued by the Fitzroy Bench, with threatening to murder Geraldine Coleman (nee Nicholson), on the 14th instant. His description was circulated to aid his apprehension: "English, a miner, 40 years of age, about 5 feet 6 inches high, stout build, fair complexion and hair, fair moustache only; dressed in grey tweed suit (sac-coat ), and drab alpine hat. He lives at the Lower Plenty, near Anderson' s Creek".
In 1877 at least two of William Digby Coleman’s mining stakes were sold off to pay debts these were his Florence Gold Mining Company and claim number 184 situated at Andersons Creek. (Melbourne Argus, 13th July & 26th Sept.)
So if it was Geraldine Coleman (previously Geraldine D'Alton and Geraldine Nicholson) who brought up William Foster Geach, or even was his actual mother, then William Digby Coleman would fit the bill of the guardian who deserted him. Also Geraldine Coleman had a link with St. Kilda where William Foster Geach's obituary said he was born.
We will now be on more solid ground and look at the life of William Foster Geach jnr. Quite a life!
The obituary in The Age, (Monday 28th October 1940) recounts that he was educated at Wesley College and that he had to fend for himself from the age of sixteen. It said he first worked as a porter in South Yarra Railway Station, then he was employed in a solicitor's office in 'the city' (presumably Melbourne), next he became a law clerk, with a solicitor in Deniliquin. After spending some time in legal work in Sydney he moved back to Melbourne to take a position with the share-broking firm of Clarke and Co. Finally he entered the employ of J. B. Were and Son where he moved up through the ranks.
The first records we have come across relating to William Foster Geach jnr. are from the year 1882 when he would have been 22 or 23.
An advert appeared in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post, Thursday 9th March 1882, offering his illuminated writing services: "W. F. Geach, Writer on silk, satin, vellum, parchment or any material. Addresses illuminated. Lodge emblems filled in from 5s; window tickets from 6d per doz - samples submitted. Bevan's Store, Auburn and Mundy Streets, Goulburn." We have come across several news articles praising the quality of his work - see the three newspaper clips below. (Goulburn Herald, Southern Argus, Goulburn & The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser)
William was also advertising his services as district agent for The Australian Widows’ Fund Life Assurance Company, Clifford Street, Goulburn, in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post in 1882 (Saturday 16th December.)
In 1882 William married Susan Winifred Mooney in New South Wales (Registered Balmain, New South Wales. Balmain is a suburb of Sydney.) Susan seems to have been born in Coomoora, Victoria in 1863. Father: Patrick, mother: Mary D'Arcy. (Coomoora is about 25 km from Taradale.)
During the next sixteen years Susan gave birth to seven children. These are listed below, and we give the years of birth and the locations so that the movement of the family can be followed. We start in Goulburn where the newspaper advertisements (above) were placed.
1883 William Lewis Geach born in Goulburn. (Find My Past) Married Annie Loch in 1907. Died in 1920.
1885 Ruby May Geach born in Goulburn. (Find My Past) Married Hugh Lunday McCullogh (McCullough) in 1916. Ruby May McCullough died in Woodend, Victoria, 1951.
1887 Birth of Constance Muriel Geach in Goulburn, New South Wales. (Find My Past) Married John Alex Robertson in Victoria 1908 Constance Muriel Robertson died in Lily, Victoria 1963.
1890 James Rupert Geach born in Clifton Hill, Victoria. (Find My Past) He died that year.
1892 Reginald Clarke Geach born in Clifton Hill, Victoria. (Find My Past) He married Annie Ida Lawrence in 1915. Reginald died in 1981.
1896 Vera Unita (maybe Junetta) Victoria Geach born in Hotham East, Victoria. (Find My Past) Married John Walter McIntosh 1915. Vera Unita Victoria McIntosh died 20 Sept 1971.
1898 Frederick Gladstone Geach born in Prahran, Victoria. (Find My Past) Died 1901.
(In 1894 a Frederick Oscar Geach was born in Hotham East, the mother's name was given as Clytie Geach, no father's name given.)
In 1889 William entered employment at J. B. Were and Son. Hence the move from Goulburn to Clifton Hill, Melbourne.
Frederick Gladstone Geach's death in 1901 is a tragic story. He was murdered by Edward Charles Holland. A search of the Australian Newspapers using Trove (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper) will pull up many reports following the trial and its aftermath - "Wilful Murder"; "Brutal Murder"; "The Melbourne Tragedy"; "Remarkable Confession"; "Horrible Child Murder"; "A Strange Crime"...
This report from the Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), Friday 22nd February 1901, gives a balanced view of the case:
EDWARD CHARLES HOLLAND was charged before Mr. Justice Williams in the Melbourne Criminal Court this week with murdering a child of 2 years of age, named Frederick Gladstone Geach, in a house in Baillie-street, North Melbourne, on the evening of Saturday, January 19.
Mr. Finlayson, K.C., prosecuted for the Crown. Mr. Gaunson defended.
The story for the prosecution was that Holland was sent to Mrs. Geach's house by her husband to watch for evidence for divorce proceedings. Holland lived there for some time. He became infatuated with the woman, and at times was a prey to remorse for the part he had undertaken to act. He became fond of the children, also. On the Saturday he was left in the house with the children. He had some unpleasantness with the eldest girl, aged 15, whom he teased. She complained to her mother on her return. The mother took her into another room to hear her complaint. Holland wished to be present, too, but was asked not to. He then took the youngest boy, aged 2, into another bedroom. The child was found there afterwards with his skull fractured, and an iron wedge lying beside him. He died the next morning. Holland went into Victoria-street, where his peculiar manner attracted the attention of Constable Davey, to whom he said he had murdered the little boy. A written statement by the accused was found, in which, among other things, he said that he was going to leave Mrs. Geach one less mouth to feed.
In cross-examination defendant's counsel elicited the fact that defendant was very fond of this little boy, and that on one occasion he pawned his boots for 2s. to get him food.
The accused, who broke down and sobbed on several occasions during the trial, gave evidence on oath on his own behalf. He had come to Australia with a large sum of money, all of which he spent. He became almost destitute, and as he was really living on Mrs. Geach he determined to commit suicide. He meant to refer to his own death in the written statement about leaving Mrs. Geach one less to keep. He hurt his head while a boy by falling off a trapeze. He had had drinks on that Saturday.
Accused was asked, "Have you any memory of how that boy was killed?" He replied, "I left Mrs Geach and went into the bedroom. The little boy was with me. I don't remember anything else. I must certainly have killed him. Thank God I didn't see his face. I did not see any blood. Thank God for it. I don't remember it. I remember nothing until I woke up in the gaol hospital on Sunday morning."
Mr. Gaunson urged the jury to acquit the accused on the ground that he was insane when he did the deed.
Mr. Justice Williams, in summing up, said the facts proved beyond doubt that the man murdered the child. The onus of proving that the man was insane rested with the defence. The case was a very singular and painful one, and the confession written by the accused in the Earl of Zetland Hotel was a very important document, because if the interpretation put upon it by the Crown was correct the prisoner contemplated the murder of the child at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning. On first hearing that confession read it occurred to him that that was the interpretation to put upon it, but there were certain facts which did make the document consistent with the intention of the prisoner to commit suicide. As to motive, the crime was a perfect blank, but that did not prove the man insane. He asked the jury, if they acquitted the accused, to specifically state whether they did so on the ground of insanity.
The jury, after an hour's deliberation, found the accused not guilty, on the ground that he was insane when he did the deed.
Mr. Justice Williams directed that Holland be detained in the Melbourne gaol during the Governor's pleasure.
A report in the Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, Saturday 2nd February 1901, gave more information about the contents of the 'confession note' and Edward Holland's sister's name which has helped us track down his English roots:
A strange document, written by Holland at noon on Saturday, in the Earl of Zetland Hotel, was found in his pocket after arrest. In it he told the story of his association with Mrs. Geach, and then occur these remarkable sentences:- 'The act I have committed will benefit her to the extent that she will have one less to keep. She cannot possibly keep her family properly on her husband's paltry allowance of £1 a week. I am sure that when I see Mrs. Geach in the hereafter she will have forgiven me.' He asked that his sister, Mrs. Beckwith, of Roydon Lodge, Roydun, Essex, England, be informed.
[ To see another report with more background information please follow this link. ]
During subsequent court cases between Mr W F Geach and Mrs S W Geach much mud was thrown. Mrs Geach claimed for maintenance and Mr Geach applied for custody of the children (Ruby, Reginald and Vera - William Lewis was already staying with his father).
Mrs Geach said her husband did not give her enough money for her and the children to live on. Mr Geach stated that he and his wife moved to Melbourne in 1888 and that he gave her £3 a week. He said she claimed she could not live off that sum and 'gave way to habits of intolerance'. He stated that his wife was unfit to have custody of the 'infants' by reason of her immorality and drunkenness; and explained that he had employed Edward Holland to stay in the house with his wife and to report back to him about her behaviour. She admitted the charge of immorality (with Holland) but claimed that her first act of misconduct occurred when she was drugged. Mrs Geach claimed Mr Geach "got Holland to murder the child, and prevented her from getting a situation by maligning her to an employer." (The Age, Friday 26 September 1902.)
Mr Geach claimed Mrs Geach had a violent temper, "that on one occasion she denuded one side of his face of hair, and drove him out of the house with an iron square. threatening to brain him if he came back. He then went into lodging. Once when he interfered to protect his son from his wife’s violence she broke a jar on his head, and intimated that if he did not make himself scarce she would put a knife into him. He occupied a separate residence for two years..." (Geelong Advertiser, Friday 17 April 1903.)
On Tuesday March 19th 1901 William Foster Geach gained custody of Ruby May Geach, Reginald Clarke Geach and Vera Geach, aged 15, 9 and 4 respectively. (William Lewis had already been living with his father. Constance Muriel is not mentioned during these proceedings.) According to the Riverine Herald, Wednesday 20th March 1901, the children "shrank from him and clung to the mother, who left the court with the youngest crying lustily."
On Tuesday May 11th 1903 a decree nisi was granted on the grounds of desertion and repeated acts of misconduct with Holland and an unknown person in the months of December 1897 and January 1898.
Five years before the tragic murder, William Foster Geach was in court on a basis that seems a strange twist of fate. He was acting as a handwriting expert... called to give his opinion on the authenticity of the signature on a will! Here is an excerpt from a report in the Melbourne Argus, Thursday 17th September 1896, regarding the disputed will of Samuel George Harrison:
William Foster Geach, expert in handwriting, said that he saw no resemblance between the signature “Thos. Carter” in the will and that of “Thomas Carter” on the letters. He saw great similarity between the handwriting in the body of the will and the sample of Cameron's handwriting.
To Mr. Pigott - I am an accountant in the office of Messrs. T H Were and Sons, and I have made a study of handwriting for the past 10 years. In my opinion, no two people can write so similarly as to deceive an expert.
Can you say, speaking generally, whether the handwriting of university men is not as a rule, straighter and more cramped than that of men engaged in commercial pursuits?
Witness - I am not prepared to say.
The Chief Justice - It must all depend on circumstances. For instance, the hand writing of the gentleman who makes out invoices for the Mutual Store surpasses any university man that I ever met in obscurity. (Laughter.)
Witness (continuing) said that he would require to study the various documents for about half an hour before he could decide definitely as to the identity of the various handwritings.
William also seems to have had an interest in photography and used it to extend his skills producing presentation documents. In 1900 he registered a photo montage with the Victorian Patents Office entitled "A Few Of The Jewels Which Adorn Her Majesty's Crown." (Original Picture Collection location number: Env. 14, no. 26.) His address was 422 Punt Road, South Yarra, Victoria at that time. (Link)
Photo montage registered at the Victorian Patents Office
by William Foster Geach.
It seems likely that there other examples of his work still in existence and maybe family photographs. If any readers of this article have come across any such items we would be very grateful if they could contact us. ( contact us now )
In 1905 William married Ada Thureau.
The polling records show how he changed address over the next 37 years. In 1903 he was living at 3 (or 5, the record is blurred) Charles St., Caulfield; occupation clerk. In 1909 William and Ada were living in Short Street, Elsternwick; occupation clerk. In 1912 they were at Allison Road, Elsternwick; occupation share broker. And, in 1937 their address was 39 Pt. Nepean Road; occupation a broker.
As can be seen in the polling records above, William was rising through the ranks at work. In fact, he became a partner in the firm J. B. Were and Son in 1906 and a senior member in 1926.
The polling records show us Geraldine Coleman's (nee Nicholson) movements too. From 1903 to 1912 she was living in Taradale with no mention of her husband, William Digby Coleman. She moved to 64 Osborne St, South Yarra in 1913 shortly before she died (1913), just 5 blocks from where William Foster Geach was living. This supports the evidence that she was closely related to him (mother or possibly stepsister).
Just a short time before the death of William Foster Geach, newspapers reported that he stole his son's yacht. The son was Reginald Clarke Geach. (William's other sons were all dead - William Lewis Geach had died in 1920, James Rupert Geach had died in infancy and Frederick Gladstone Geach was murdered in 1901. The coroner's report for William Lewis Geach recorded that he died in Sydney Hospital as a result of "strychnine poisoning wilfully administered by himself." [State Archives NSW; Series: 2765; Item: X2091; Roll: 343] )
Reginald claimed that after his father had given him a yacht, valued at £500, he stole it from its mooring and sold it. Counsel for William admitted that the father had taken the yacht and sold it in order to teach his son a lesson after the son had argued with his (the son's) wife. William explained he had helped his son for years, but “they all had blasted hopes.” He said he bought the yacht for his son so that he might earn money by taking out boating parties. He, however, had not given the yacht to him. It was his son’s wife who sold the yacht, although the money was later handed to him.
The judge sympathised with William but awarded his son £300. He said the father had been pouring money in his son's lap for years but it was not a judge's job to decide the gratitude or otherwise of the son. (See "Father Sued By Son", The Age, Melbourne, Thursday 13 June, 1940 p.9)
William Foster Geach died 26th October 1940. His estate was worth over £43000. He cancelled debts and left property to his chauffeur and secretary. He left a freehold property of 400 acres to grandson Reginald McIntosh and a freehold property of 20 acres to grandson Reginald Robertson. However his will dated 1933 left everything else in trust which allowed his wife and family to continue occupying their properties and an allowance. In a codicil dated 1936 he revoked all bequests and legacies to Reginald Clarke Geach and his family as, in his own words, "I have already provided them with ample financial assistance which has not been appreciated by my said son Reginald Clarke Geach."
Susan Geach (William Foster Geach's first wife) died in Geraldton, also in 1940.
Frost was around 55 years of age when his sentence began - his chance of returning to Britain must have looked extremely slim.
In Tasmania he worked for three years as a clerk and eight years as a school teacher as well as labouring as a gardener. Then in 1854 he was granted a conditional pardon. This allowed him to travel anywhere other than his homeland. He went to the United States and gave talks about the dreadful conditions suffered by those who fell foul of the transportation system.
In 1856 Frost was granted an unconditional pardon. He returned to Britain and though he visited Newport he did not make his home there; instead he settled at Stapleton, Bristol, where his wife Mary had been living for some time. He continued to live there with one of his daughters, Anne, after his wife's death in 1857. Unfortunately he never got round to writing his memoirs and died in 1877 at the age of 93.
William Foster Geach Senior
Some sources state or suggest that William's wife, Elizabeth, followed him out to Tasmania. If this is true, she must have gone after the 1841 British census and returned before the 1851 British census as she appears in both of these.
A short paragraph in the North Wales Chronicle, 12 December 1843, stated:
Geach, the step-son of John Frost, the Chartist chief in the attack upon Newport in 1839, who is a solicitor, and was about two years since transported for twenty years for forgery, has been, after working twenty months upon the roads, allowed a “ticket ot leave,” and has been hired as a free servant to his wife, who followed him out. Frost has sent a letter to Mrs. Frost and his daughters, desiring them to go out also, in the hope that Mrs. Frost will be allowed to hire him as a free servant.
We have recently come across more conclusive evidence that his wife was in Richmond, Tasmania, with him. In February and March 1844 a magistrate by the name of George Weston Gunning wrote letters to the Comptroller General of Convicts asking that William should be rewarded for his services (preventing a plot for 7 or 8 men to take over a Government ship and helping in the capture of an escaped convict). The magistrates actual words were, "I feel an interest in this person Geach – first from his extreme good conduct as Javelin for twelve Months when he has been at Richmond which has come under my notice as visiting Magistrate – and again from his wife being an amiable accomplished woman – keeping a boarding school at Richmond – under whose instruction my Grand Children are making great progress."
William only arrived in Tasmania in February 1841, his wife was still in Wales in June 1841 (when the census was taken). Yet by March 1844 William's wife had travelled to Tasmania and was keeping a boarding school with a magistrate's grandchildren among the pupils.
William and his wife have made quite an impression on Mr Gunning! William for his 'extreme good conduct' and his wife for being 'an amiable and accomplished woman'.
There is much of interest here, but we will just focus on the fact that as far as the magistrate was concerned the wife (or a wife) of William Foster Geach was running a boarding school in Richmond, Tasmania in 1844.
Click here to view our transcriptions of these letters and their accompanying documents.
There were suggestions he went under the name of William Foster. We now look at a few newspaper reports to this effect:
FROST, WILLIAMS, AND JONES. - A letter has been received in this county, from Hobart Town, from which the following is an extract, and from hence it will be seen they have uncontrolled liberty in Van Dieman's Land:- “I saw the Chartists, Frost. Jones, and Williams, not long since. Williams is at New Norfolk, in good health, but unhappy; wants to get to England; he talked of opening a shop in the general line, if he does not hear favourable news from home. Jones is in partnership with a watchmaker named Dushane, a Frenchman, at Launceston, far better off than ever he was in England; I saw him a few weeks since extravagantly dressed. I believe Frost is living at Bagdad, some miles from here, with Geach and his wife. She keeps a very respectable boarding school there, in the name of Mrs. Foster. They have all very great indulgencies.
Monmouthshire Merlin, Saturday, 7th August 1847, page 3, In the local intelligence column
A BELLE OF THE PAST – MISS CHATTY ATKINS (MRS RUCK) - In the old, old times, when Colonel Gore Browne was Governor of New Zealand, and Mrs Gore Browne dispensed her hospitalities at Hulme Court in Parnell (Government House having been burnt down some time before, and not then rebuilt), there dwelt in what is now called Selwyn-terrace a solicitor named Merriman. Mrs Merriman, his wife, had been married before to Captain Atkins, but the children of the two marriages lived together in peace and amity, equally cared for by the kind-hearted father and mother of the house. In those days lawyers did not make the money they do now; but Mr Merriman would have been a rich man but for a very singular circumstance, owing to which he always remained a man of very moderate means. There arrived in those days, by one of the few vessels hailing from the port of Sydney, a well-dressed, gentlemanly man, with a letter of credit on the Union Bank for a large sum of money, and an introduction to F. Merriman, Esq. He called himself Foster; his wife and daughter were with him. He presented his letter of credit at the bank, but that institution, with commendable prudence, said of course they had no doubt whatever, but they should like another name. “Would Mr Merriman give his name as security - merely as a form?” asked Mr Foster, who by this time was great chums with the lawyer; and in an evil hour poor Merriman consented. Mr Foster took the best house he could get and the best furniture, and kept the best table, and actually drove about a tandem. He gave parties, and there were high jinks. Ships were very few and far between in those days, and for a little while he knew he was safe. Meanwhile an immigrant vessel from England arrived, and one of these new-comers, walking up what is now Symonds-street, met Mr Foster face to face. Both stood transfixed, but Foster recovered first, and went quickly on. The new-comer had seen him last in the criminal dock, being sentenced to penal servitude. His real name was William Foster Geach, a solicitor, who had committed not one, but hundreds of acts of wicked and cruel embezzlement, and ruined whole families. After this rencontre Foster did not stop long. A vessel was about to sail for Honolulu. He sold off everything, and got clear off with his booty about three days before an officer arrived from Sydney with an order for his arrest. The letter of credit was forged. Mr Merriman was of course responsible, but he could not pay it, and the bank was lenient; but still it always remained against him, and seemed to paralyse his efforts. If he made money, it was not his, but the bank’s money; what was the use, therefore, of making it?
This gentleman - kind-hearted, generous, unfortunate, universally liked - was the step-father of Miss Chatty Atkins, who in her day was perhaps more of a belle, my fair young readers, than any of you are now. You must not suppose that there were no balls or parties in those days. There were many and splendid ones and many a dashing officer to dance with. Miss Atkins was tall, with sparkling dark eyes, a straight nose, and teeth of dazzling whiteness, and the number of her admirers were legion. No party was complete without her, for she had charms of conversation, as well as charms of person. Mrs Gore Browne was so fond of her that when they departed from New Zealand to assume the vice-regal dignity in Tasmania, Miss Atkins was invited there by her and made a long visit. Yet neither in Tasmania nor in high places in New Zealand, did she find her fate. How often do we notice that the handsomest and the jolliest girls who are the life and soul of happy picnics, and gay dances, marry at last the least eligible man of their acquaintances. And how often do we find that the best looking women get hold of the worst husbands. And so while those less sought after, and less pretty, were making good matches right and left, she married Captain Ruck. Yet no picture of the old days of Government House would be complete without the figure of Chatty Atkins, dark-eyed, dark-haired, sparkling, witty, the belle des belles!
The New Zealand Observer, Volume 3, Issue 70, 14 January 1882, Page 281, (this issue starts p.273 and ends 289)
The Monmouthshire Merlin 1847 account, on its own, is so vague as to be of little value. We don't know who wrote the letter mentioned or who received it, and then the writer only says he believed Frost and Geach were living at Bagdad etc... Though it does add weight to the suggestion that Elizabeth Geach travelled out to Tasmania to be with her husband.
It is true, however, that a Mrs Foster did run a school in Bagdad from 1845 to 1849. A notice in "The True Colonist", Thursday December 12th 1844, headed "Bagdad Seminary For Young Ladies," began: "MRS. FOSTER begs to state that she has taken, for a term of years, the house and premises at Bagdad, lately occupied by Mr. Wing - and the same are undergoing considerable alterations, and will be opened for the reception of Young Ladies on the 13th of January next."
Later, in the Hobart Guardian, 17th March 1949, Mrs Foster informed parents of her pupils that her school (Bagdad Seminary) was to be discontinued in April of that year. It said: "Mrs. Foster regrets the shortness of the notice thus given; but recent communications from England, together with earnestly expressed desire of her friends there, have rendered this unavoidable". Then went on to say: "Mrs Foster would be glad to meet with a young lady competent to complete the education of her little girl". She can't have intended to return to Britain as it continued: "Salary for the first year £60, and with an increase annually for four years further, and every domestic comfort afforded".
But how can we know if this was, in fact, a wife of William Foster Geach?
The second article, from the New Zealand Observer, is far more interesting! At first it seems rambling and vague. One is left wondering what the point of it is? Who is it mainly about?
However we have checked out the people and events and have found them to be 100% accurate - all but for the parts we are interested in! Nowhere else have we found mention of Mr. Merriman meeting William Foster Geach or Mr Merriman running into difficulty with the Union Bank.
Let us examine the article in detail. Where did it take place? Selwyn Terrace - this places it in Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand.
When did it take place? "When Colonel Gore Browne was Governor of New Zealand" - this puts it between 1855 and 1861.
Now let's examine who it was about. Firstly, Mr. Merriman; this was Frederick Ward Merriman, born 1818 in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England. He moved to New Zealand and practiced as a lawyer before being elected to New Zealand Parliament representing the Suburbs of Auckland. In 1850 he married Susanna Augusta Atkins (also spelled Atkyns), widow of Captain Atkins and daughter of daughter of Colonel Greene of Kilmainham Castle and Glen Abbey, Co. Waterford, Ireland.
Next, "Chatty Atkins"; this was Charlotte Atkins, daughter of Thomas Ringrose Atkins (Atkyns) and Mr Merriman's stepdaughter, described as "socially well connected in Auckland". And what about her match with "the worst of husbands"? Well, she did indeed marry Captain Ruck, who, it seems, was a bad egg. (2014 Newspaper Report about Captain Ruck)
What, then, was the article actually informing the reader? What was its purpose? Was it to let readers know that this well thought of politician had been duped? Was it to remind readers of "Chatty Atkins" in the good old days? Was it to take a pot shot at Captain Ruck, who when the paper was published was lying in his death bed? Maybe all of these... but of course our interest is in William Foster Geach, and the character described here is without doubt our man. Why on earth would the writer introduce him into this story, forty years after he had been transported and around twenty years after the events reported? It is very tempting to also believe this part of the story, but unfortunately so far we have found nothing to back it up.
The year 1882 could be significant, firstly, because, as mentioned above, Captain Ruck died just a few months after the report was published. We also wonder if it could be connected with the fact that in 1882 William Foster Geach (jnr.) started advertising in the Goulburn Evening Post, and his name appeared in several news reports praising the quality of his penmanship.
Taken together, the items from the Monmouthshire Merlin, the True Colonist and the New Zealand Observer are enough to lead us to investigate whether William Foster Geach went under the name of William Foster, had a daughter and whether he was involved in forgery.
If he had a daughter then she could have been the mother of William Foster Geach jnr. This is a possibility... remember the advert in the Hobart Guardian, 17th March 1949, asked for "a young lady competent to complete the education of her little girl... Salary for the first year £60, and with an increase annually for four years further, and every domestic comfort afforded". This implies that the girl needed 5 more years of schooling suggesting she would have been around 8 or 9 years of age - 18 or 19 in 1859 when William was born.
Regarding involvement in forgery, we have found accounts of a William Foster passing forged cheques in Brighton, 1857, to the amount of £2400. One of the witnesses at the trial stated: “I have known Foster for nine years, and I first knew him in Van Diemen's Land. He was a lawyer's clerk. I believe he was then bond.“ He was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. (The Age, Melbourne, Victoria, Saturday 26th September, 1857 & Saturday 9th August, 1857)
In 1862 he was on trial again for forgery in Brighton. He dismissed his solicitor and defended himself. During the trial he was described as "one of the most practised forgers on record". One of the other accused, Charles Wilson, said he had known William Foster 17 years ago in Van Diemen's Land. William Foster was again sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. (The Farmer's Journal and Gardener's Chronicle, Melbourne, Victoria, Saturday 9 August, 1862 & The Argus, Melbourne, Victoria, Monday 22 September, 1862)
According to the second report in the case above: "Foster submitted, in his defence, that there was no proof of the uttering having been committed on a bank at all. It might have taken place over a, desk in a public-house, and there was a public house called the Colonial Bank in Little Collins street".
The problem with these two cases is that 'William Foster' would have been in prison from 1857 to nearly 1869, with just a short time out in 1862. This doesn't match with the Merriman report or the birth of William Foster Geach jnr.
Brighton, St. Kilda, and Elsternwick are adjacent parts of Melbourne.
We have found the case of Lionel Levi (alias Lionel St. Clair, alias Lavalette) who was staying at the St. Kilda Family Hotel in 1858. He was initially charged with obtaining money under false pretences. He used legal catches to keep getting re-trials and was in court several times before a final guilty verdict was passed for of feloniously uttering a letter of credit. His sentence was three years' hard labour on the roads of the colony to be carried out at the expiration of his former sentence of four years' penal servitude. (The Argus, Melbourne, Victoria, Saturday, 18 September, 1858)
It seems most likely that William Foster Geach jnr. was the son of William Foster Geach snr.; and either Geraldine D'Alton (nee Nicholson) was the birth mother or she adopted him. She had been running a hotel in St. Kilda near the time he was born. William Digby Coleman would not have been the best of guardians and he would fit the description in Geach's obituary (in The Age, Melbourne, Victoria, Monday 28th October 1940). And in her last years of life Geraldine moved from Taradale to South Yarra, just 5 blocks from where William Foster Geach jnr. was living.
What became of William Foster Geach snr? Did he sail for Liverpool on board the Royal Charter under the name of Lionel D'Alton and go down with the ship? He wasn't returning to his stated birth place, Limerick, as the ship stopped off in the South of Ireland at Cobh and he didn't disembark there. However, against this idea, Lionel's age was given as 39 and William Foster Geach snr would have been 54.
Did Lionel Dalton leave Australia because his wife had just given birth to Geach's son? There seems to be some strange twists in this story!
What about the coincidence that William Foster Geach jnr. appeared in court as a handwriting expert while William Foster Geach snr. was transported for forging signatures.
After all this research we still haven't found out what became of William Foster Geach snr. However we do know the wife he had to leave behind in Wales ended up a wealthy woman. Would this have been the case if he hadn't been transported? And we do know that the man we think was his son, born in Australia, became a successful stockbroker and very wealthy. Quite a story!