Letters of Love

Josiah Twyford Smith was born on 20th February 1824 in Preston, Lancashire. His parents were William Smith, a draper, and Elizabeth Sophia Twyford, who were married on 6th February 1823 at Manchester Cathedral.

Josiah was followed in the cradle by Ellen (1825) and Mary (1826). Family legend has it that his father William was talking to someone next to the canal in Manchester, when he fell in and drowned. This is believed to have happened in or around 1828.

At some point around 1834, Elizabeth married again to a John Lindley, who had worked for her father, Josiah Twyford. At the time of the 1841 census Josiah Twyford Smith was staying with his favourite uncle, Hugh Twyford. However, soon after, he must have done something illegal, or heinously immoral, as later letters to his mother suggest, for he left England on 26th October 1841 bound for Australia, arriving in Port Phillip on 29th January 1842. The next day he travelled to the settlement of Melbourne, Victoria, which had only been founded some seven years previously.

Once in the colonies, Josiah dropped the name ‘Smith’, preferring instead to use his middle name, ‘Twyford’, as his surname.   As he settled into his new life in Australia, his sisters were getting married back in England. His youngest sister, Mary Smith, married a James Carr on 12th April 1848. James went on to start up a pottery factory. His other sister, Ellen Smith, married one John Astle Kelsall on 11th May 1853 at Bowden Church in Cheshire, which the family had attended for marriages and burials for at least a century.

Josiah also married in 1853. On 31st March of that year he married Margaret Palmer at St James’ Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia. Margaret had been born on 4th January 1830 in Glassonby, Westmoreland, England. Her parents were John Palmer and Ellen Shearman who had married at Orton, Westmoreland, on 1st March 1826. Josiah was the postmaster for Mount Macedon, to the north of Melbourne, and also ran a hay and corn store on the road to the goldfields. He had come to this area in the goldrush and, after not having much luck, realised he could make money selling produce instead.

The letters I have in my possession start after Josiah’s marriage:-

November 1854. Kyneton, Victoria, Australia.

To Mary Carr, Hardey Grove, Cheshire.

I am really joyful to think of your happy marriage; I have also the pleasure to announce that I was married in March 1853, to Margaret Palmer, a lady whom I sincerely love, and a pattern to her sex. And without any further eulogium, she is all that I desire; I suppose I must answer your inquisitive questions, if they so be called, but as coming from a sister, they are anything but natural…

…First, my health is good, and always was since I arrived in the colonies, for which god be praised. My wife is well, and we have got a fine daughter, whom I have named Elizabeth, born on 29th November 1854.

Over the years Josiah wrote seven letters, two to his mother and five to his youngest sister Mary (known as Polly). He also wrote to his other sister Ellen (aka Nelly), as he mentions this in his letters. He was fond of the letters which he received, writing:-

It is impossible for you to conceive how thankful I am for your letter. It will be amongst the other treasures of mother’s, Ellen’s and your own, which I have read and reread, until they have become thumbed like an only bible in a family.

He was often upbraided for his religious beliefs and frequently assured his sister, Mary, that his soul was not in peril:-

You make inquiries into my soul. I dont wish to waive the subject, but I could not enter into the matter intelligibly. I find very few practical Christians, from the Governor down to the lowliest official, they take and give bribes. The people at present are a money grabbing race.

Mary seems to have been a very religious, conservative woman, and he, quite liberal in his beliefs. Of course, the correspondence is one sided, but there are a lot of referrals to the letters previously received, and she seems to have quite often sent him religious material.

Feb 1855. Kyneton, Victoria. To Elizabeth Lindley, Altrincham, Cheshire.

Dear Mother,

I read your invaluable epistle and I prize it far above all gold and I was surprised to receive one so very legible. I wish to God I could see you once more, for I love the very name of mother, I revere every sentence your lips have spoken. Mother I cannot speak of all my love and devotion to you; I can feel it, but I find it impossible to describe. I always loved you, but my waywardness and unkind disposition made you grieve; and if we never see each other here below, think of me with the kindness you always did; and know that your only son, honours you above all in this world.

I am happy to tell you, I have a daughter, and I have called her after you ‘Elizabeth’; send her a token, and may God bless you dear Mother, is the fervent prayer of your devoted son,


From his letters, it appears that Josiah almost worshipped his mother. He begs her forgiveness for upsetting her, when he left England, yet the reasons why are not explained. As he was writing this letter, she was dying of brain congestion, passing away in Altrincham on 23rd February. It is sad to think that she would never have seen it. I imagine the news of a grandchild would have excited her dearly.

Josiah’s sister, Ellen, died in Altrincham on 24th July 1868. He is visibly upset with the news, which was accompanied by the news of various elderly aunts and uncles also passing, although he never remembered who they were and didn’t repeat their names. So if Mary’s letters hadn’t survived, we would never have known who they were. He was annoyed, however, that they hadn’t left him any money, or a plate, or railway shares in their wills, saying that he would have found them more agreeable and held them in higher esteem if they had!

His letters paint him as a spoilt man; his mother frequently sent him money and his sister Mary sent bits and bobs whenever he asked including “a set of colours, for mine where lost at sea [during a storm in 1842]”.

15th May 1869. Langley, near Kyneton, Victoria. To Mary Carr, Ashton upon Mersey, England.

The death of dear Nelly, of which you informed me, brought back to my memory many a childhood scene, and filled me with the deepest grief; for dear Polly, my feelings of affection to you and Nelly and our dearest mother have grown more fond as time has lapsed, and I am happy to know I still have a dear sister to correspond with…

…Since you have told me of your domestic comforts, and the names of your boys and girls, I must return the compliment and edify you as too my affairs. In the first place, I married Margaret Palmer in the year 1853, she being about 4 years my junior (more correctly 8 years!) and have in her a perfect good woman and true wife, whom I love and respect and I thank my maker I was led to make the fortunate venture.

We have had nine children, eight being alive, viz Elizabeth, 15 next Nov (b.29 Nov 1854), Ellen, 13 last March (b.9 Mar 1856), William, 11 last July (b.31 Jul 1857), Hugh, dead (1 Jan 1859- 25 Jan 1860), Mary, 8 last January (b.1 Jan 1860), Isabella, 6 last Oct (b.16 Oct 1862), Sarah Jane, 4 (b.16 Oct 1864), Margaret, 3 (b.31 Dec 1865), and John, 1 and a half (b.31 Dec 1867)…

[Note: the couple were to have two more children – Thomas (b.29 Mar 1870) and Rachel (b.29 Sep 1872).]

…My wife rejoices that I have opened a correspondence for she is a most affectionate sister to many brothers and sisters of her own, all here in my district. My daughter, Elizabeth, and and all the rest wish their aunt and uncle every happiness, and send their heartfelt love to their cousins. My wife is curious to know is there a likeness to me in my sister, so send me a photograph and I will send you all of ours taken by my wife’s brother, John, who is an artist.

[Note: It did in fact take him four years to send them!]

I believe that Josiah loved his wife sincerely, as the comments he made in his letters show. He had 11 children in all, with only Hugh dying in infancy. Joisah died from cirrhosis of the stomach on 25th March 1882, at Kyneton and is buried in the cemetery there with baby Hugh.

His letters give me the impression of a spoilt mother’s boy, who was very crafty in manipulating his English family to get what he needed. It wasn’t so with his own offspring, as being a farmer, he took up extra land as each child turned 18, as per the Victorian Land Registrations Act of 1870, a copy of which he sent to his sister. He also sent her his local papers which he endorsed because he agreed with their views.

His widow, Margaret, involved herself heavily with the Salvation Army, as she encouraged her children to do also. She died of pneumonia on 15th July 1895, at Kyneton.


© kylejustin 2010


Josiah’s letters


General Register Office

Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages