Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Missionary to New Zealand?

That’s what he told the family!

My great great grandfather, the music Professor Caleb Rand Bill came from Nova Scotia to New England with his wife. They had their nine children in succession from New Brunswick, Maine, Boston and then Salem as he moved from place to place teaching music. According to the Bill Family Genealogy, he had three brothers. One died while studying away at Acadia College, and the other two went on a mission to New Zealand. This made sense to me, since their father was the Nova Scotia Baptist preacher Reverend Ingraham Ebenezer Bill.

I didn’t question the compiled genealogy, at least not for a while…

Later, when using the NEHGS online vital records database, I decided to find out just how uncommon the “Bill” name was as a surname in Massachusetts. I typed in the name and I was surprised to find several Bills I didn’t know about. I found the death record of one of the brothers, Edward Manning Bill, who had gone on a mission to Australia. He died in Boston in 1904, of “hemiplegia”, contributory cause “exposure, life in Australia!”

The two brothers were Edward Manning Bill and Ingraham Ebenezer Bill, Jr. I knew that I. E. Jr. had gone on to become a minister, in his father’s footsteps. According to the Bill Genealogy he lived as a missionary for a while in New Zealand. In the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, there was a marriage in a newspaper entitled “Christian Visitor” July 1, 1869, listing a marriage on May 22nd, between I. E. Bill of Regent’s Park College, London, to Eleanor, the second daughter of George Pike, of Sutton, Kent, England. In the 1880 US Federal Census of Caribou, Maine (on the border with Canada) it lists Ingram Bill, age 44, minister, wife Ellen, and several children. I also found a “Ministerial Register” at listing him as a Baptist Minister in Chicago in the 1892, 1893, and 1895 editions. So Junior’s story works out OK. What about his brother?

Two brothers: Edward Manning Bill and Ingraham Ebenezer Bill, Jr. were listed on an 1852 shipping list on board the ship “Chebucto” which arrived at Port Phillip, Melbourne, Australia on 9 October 1852. According to this list at the Victoria State Library, it was ““Another instance of the wide-spreading attractiveness of our gold-fields shows itself in the arrival of this vessel from Halifax, Nova Scotia bringing with it a large number of passengers all anxious to turn gold diggers. Nothing of importance occurred on the passage.”

Aha! Two young brothers left Nova Scotia, telling the relatives they were bound for a mission. Both arrived in Australia during the gold rush. One went on to New Zealand, like the good minister’s son he was brought up to be. What happened to the other?

Last year I found the answer when a woman in Australia sent me an email. Her message starts out with the line “Thank goodness for computers and for Google!” and it went on to describe her search for clues to the identity of “Edward Manning Bill!” She was tracing a young girl named Harriet Young Cox, who was adopted by Edward Manning Bill in the late 1800s. The daughter was a singer in London, and the United States, listed on the cast of musical productions found on line. Father and adopted daughter were on the 1901 Census in London, where Edward was listed as a widower.

With these clues, we were able to find passenger lists of the father and daughter leaving Australia, traveling to London and the United States. Harriet married and lived in Washington State. There was a wife, Charlotte Grace, which made me laugh because my ancestor, the music professor Caleb Rand Bill named one of his daughters Charlotte Grace. Another mystery solved. I received a transcript of the marriage record. Such nice people in Australia!

Sadly, the wife Charlotte Grace was left behind in Australia, where she died in an insane asylum. As the details flowed out of Australia over the internet to me, the story became very sad. I sent her the details of Harriet’s life in Washington, and she found a photograph of Edward and Charlotte, but also the record for the asylum. Charlotte died on 21 September 1894, only a few weeks after Edward and Harriet arrived in London on 25 August 1894 . Did they abandon her to die in the asylum? Was she ill before they left?

Soon I had an answer from the Australian Public Records Office Website. This surprised me because I had a family member die at the Danvers, Massachusetts State Hospital in the 1910’s and I can’t get the records without a court order. However, here is the short version of what happened after she was admitted in 1893, suffering delusions:

2/6/94 Fractured hip at (?) and sent to hospital
30/6/94 Progressing favourably
7/9/94 Has a good deal of edema of (?) and side of abdomen also suffering from cystitis
18/9/94 Took to bed finally with (?) patches on hands and scratches on lower left leg - bedsores on ankle
21/9/94 Died at about 10.50pm with cause of death Disease of the heart and dropsy of the lungs.

At the time she was admitted Edward Manning Bill was a school teacher at Diamond Creek, a long way from the Beechworth Insane Asylum in Australia. From what I can tell, with bedsores and other signs of neglect, family was not nearby to monitor her care. In fact, it seems they abandoned her to go to Europe for young Harriet’s musical career?

The photo above is the primary school at Diamond Creek, where Edward Manning Bill was the head teacher from 1870 to 1892. Edward Bill is the man with the white cockatoo, and the woman next to him is Charlotte, his wife. Charlotte taught handcrafts. Diamond Creek is near where Australia experienced its gold rush of 1852. At the time the ship “Chebucto” landed in Australia in 1852 Edward was 21 years old, and his brother Ingraham was only 16!

Thank you to Helen Swaine, of Frankston, Victoria, Australia for helping me to solve this mystery, and for providing the primary source material out of Australia (marriage records, asylum case records, and the photograph!)

For more information:

I previously blogged about the Bill family on 15 September 2009 in the posting “Tracing Your Minister Ancestors”. Please see this post for the Bill lineage

History of the Bill Family, edited by Ledyard Bill, New York,1867. Updated by Harry Bill, of Billtown, Cornwallis, Nova Scotia

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction. Very interesting story ---- and research trail, as well.

  2. Fascinating story and such a wonderful gift from an unexpected source. You really did a great job filling in all the blanks.
    Thank you for commenting on my blog.

  3. So pleased Helen Swaine was able to help with the mystery. It certainly would make a ripping yarn.