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In an earlier post ‘Naming and Shaming‘ I wrote about how at least three of my 3 or 4x great grandmothers left their families.

Jane Wright absconded to escape years of relentless childbearing. Elizabeth Head and Elizabeth Carlisle both left their husbands and families to live with other men.

in Elizabeth Blackman’s case the breakdown of her marriage was played out in the Sydney Gazette over a number of years. Elizabeth’s husband certainly used the widely read newspaper to ‘air the couple’s dirty linen’.

The early years

Elizabeth Blackman and her future husband William Carlisle came to Australia from England as free settlers. The Blackman family arrived in 1801 on the Canada while William arrived in 1804 on the Experiment.

The Blackman and Carlisle families were well-educated and well-connected. John Blackman, Elizabeth’s father was described in his youth as being ‘a handsome, well-educated, spoilt and flamboyant young gentleman’.

The Blackmans and William Carlisle were leaving the highly class conscious England for a very different land.

William married Elizabeth Blackman at St Peters Church, Richmond on 7 January 1816. William was 32 while Elizabeth was 15 years old.

Elizabeth lived in this house before her marriage in 1816. It is still standing today.

William needed a wife to raise his daughter Amelia from his first marriage – his first wife had died He had no intention of settling down to a simple family life. He was determined to become a missionary in New Zealand, under the leadership of Rev. Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society of London.

By April 1817 the couple were sailing in the Society’s brig Active and Elizabeth was expecting their son, James, who was born at the Bay of Islands on 6 October 1817. James was one of the first Caucasian children born in New Zealand. Another son John was born less than 8 months later at the Bay of Islands. Despite his premature birth, he survived and thrived.

Shortly after the young family’s return to Sydney , the couple’s first daughter Henrietta was born in October 1821.

The marriage breakdown

While we will never know the real causes of the breakdown in the marriage we do know that by 1824, the time of the earliest Public Notice, William was a serious and deeply religious middle aged man of 44. Elizabeth was 23, no longer the immature 15 year old he married.

The deterioration of the marriage can be traced through the following Public Announcements from the Sydney Gazette.

My Property – Notice 1

The first notice refers to ‘my Property’ and ‘my Premises’. In particular it mentions ‘my Horned Cattle’. As horned cattle were cows with long horns imported from South Africa this is a not so oblique reference to Elizabeth as his property.

NOTICE – It having come to my knowledge that some ill-disposed Persons intended, in a clandestine way, to get Possession of my Horned Cattle, I hereby forbid all Persons from purchasing the same, either those at Bathurst or Richmond, or my Premises in the Township of Richmond, Horse and Cart, or any other Part of my Property, from any Person except myself, on any Pretence whatever. WILLIAM CARLISLE
Sydney Gazette, 1 April 1824

Repeatedly absconding upon the most frivolous occasions – Notice 2

NOTICE – Elizabeth Carlisle, my Wife, having been in the habit of repeatedly absconding from her Home and Family, at Richmond upon the most frivolous Occasions, and being now absent, I hereby Caution the Inhabitants of the Colony not to credit her on my Account; as I will not be answerable for any Debts she may contract. WILLIAM CARLISLE
Sydney Gazette, 23 September 1824

Having degraded herself

By now, the notices are more threatening. The absences are no longer ‘frivolous’. William clearly states that Elizabeth was living with a John Roberts, bullock-driver. John is my 3x great grandfather.

The fact that Elizabeth had let him for John Roberts, the son of two convicts would have been doubly humiliating to a man of his time and background.

I, THE undersigned, am under the painful necessity of cautioning the public not to give credit to ELIZABETH CARLISLE, my Wife, on my Account, as I will not be answerable for any Debts she may hereafter contract, as she is now away from her Family, and having degraded her-self ever since, by living in a state of adultery with a Bullock-driver at Richmond, of the Name of John Roberts. Any Person, except her Relations, harbourng her after this Public Notice, will be prosecuted to the utmost severity of the Law. WILLIAM CARLISLE.

Living in a state of adultery with a bullock-driver

This notice is the most bitter, most explicit of the public notices and to our modern sensibilities, it is hard to understand how it made it into print. William made damning accusations about his wife as well as about John Roberts. It is hard to tell what William finds most shocking- the face that Elizabeth is living with another man or the fact that she is living with a bullock-driver (and the son of convicts).

We also need to remember that in 1825 both Elizabeth Carlisle and John Roberts were 24 while William Carlisle was 45.

I, the undersigned, am under the painful Necessity of cautioning the Public not to give Credit to ELIZABETH CARLISLE, my Wife, on my Account, as I will not be answerable for any Debts she may hereafter contract, as she is now away from her Family, and having degraded herself ever since, by living in a state of adultery with a Bullock driver at Richmond, of the name of John Roberts, which said Bullock-driver is at this time fully committed to take his Trial at the next Windsor Quarter Sessions for a Robbery at Richmond, Any Person, except her Relations, harbouring her after this Public Notice, will be prosecuted to the utmost severity of the law. WILLIAM CARLISLE
Sydney Gazette, 17 February 1825

A brother-in-law speaks up

I HEREBY certify to the Public, that ELIZABETH CARLISLE (Wife of WILLIAM CARLISLE, Painter, of Richmond), is not living or co-habiting with any Bullock- driver by the Name of Roberts, but she lives at my House with her Sister, and under my protection, and is totally de- pending on her own Industry, her Husband having parted with her without allowing her any Support, J. H. BARSDEN

Sydney Gazette,3 March 1825

The 1825 muster

The 1825 muster is interesting as it includes all members of the Carlisle family. However William Carlisle is not in a family grouping with his wife and children. He is listed at the bottom with 2 convicts between him and his daughter Henrietta. Was he living away from home at this stage?


The irreconcilable breakdown of their marriage seems to have caused William to become embittered. He had his revenge in November 1827.

“A Mrs CARLISLE, the only female in the vessel, and who occupied the steerage, a passenger in the Elizabeth for England, was visited by her husband on the evening of Wednesday last. He took the liberty of searching her person, and found £50 in Treasury bills. Having secured his treasure, Mr Carlisle returned to shore, leaving his wife so much poorer.”

Separate lives

The 1828 census shows me that by then my 3x great-grandparents were leading very different lives. William was working as a painter while living in Bathurst Street Sydney with his two eldest sons John and James.

In the same census Elizabeth Roberts or Carlisle is recorded as living with john Roberts along with Henrietta , her daughter with William Carlisle and Ann, her newly born daughter of with John Roberts.

Elizabeth and John Roberts remained together until her death in 1849, aged 51. They had 5 children. Their youngest daughter was my 2x great grandmother Maria Kezia Roberts.

Maria Kezia Everingham nee Roberts

One thought on “AIRING THE DIRTY LAUNDRY Leave a comment

  1. I loved reading this.It is a bit of my family history that I was not aware of.I am also descended from William Roberts and Kezia Brown via Edward Roberts and Mary Gough


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