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William Saywell 1845-1930

Margaret Wells
14 October, l988

My great grandfather, William Saywell was born on 18th July, 1845 in the Rue Eustache de Saint Pierre, St Pierre les Calais, France, the second son of George Saywell, a tulliste and mechanic and his second wife, Isabelle Kis-Caden(1). With his parents, brother, sister, three stepsisters and two stepbrothers, he arrived in Sydney on 6th October, 1848 on the barque Agincourt, part of a group of English refugees from France, who appeared, according to the Sydney Morning Herald(2) to be the class of immigrant well suited to the colony." They settled In Maitland.

On 24th May, 1873, William, now a tobacco manufacturer of 4 Park Street, Sydney, married Mary Garaty. Her father, Thomas Nicholas, was Irish and had been a private in the 28th Regiment of Foot, stationed at Maitland when Mary was born in the Stockade on 3rd June, 1837(3) Was it a shared memory of a Maitland childhood that drew these two together as adults despite the difference in their ages and religions? Mary was eight years older than William and a Catholic. William and his family were of English Protestant stock. The tragic death of Mary's father in 1851 by the accidental discharge of his own gun while with a shooting party was reported in the Maitland press and would have excited much local sympathy(4). Mary was the same age as William's stepbrother Thomas; her brother Jack, a sawmiller at Morpeth, was the same age as Williams brother George. What changes in the local economy led to the migration to the city of members of both families?

A daughter, Mary May was born to William and Mary Saywell on 28th June, 1874. Some time later another daughter Maud was born and in 1877 a son, William Vincent Burleigh who died, aged 11 months, in 1878. It is through his elder daughter, known as May, that the line has continued. On her 18th birthday she married Patrick Bourke, an Irish irrimigrant whom she had met while staying with her uncle Thomas Saywell at his hotel in Brighton-le-Sands.

William has been described as an "attractive drifter"(5) In the space of eleven years he had six changes of address in and around the city and Surry Hills!(6) The most settled period of his marriage was the ten or so years when he lived at 21 Greens Road, Paddington, a pleasant area near Victoria Barracks. Mary, in ill health and embittered by her struggle to bring up her two daughters, died a few years after May's marriage. May and Patrick Bourke were prosperous. He invested wisely in property in the Randwick area where they lived in Avoca Street and later in Perouse Road and brought up their five children and William lived with them, moving with them to Chatswood at the end of the first World War. At the time of my parents' marriage in early l921 the Bourke family, which now included Patrick's sister Ellen as well as William had settled down in "Rose lodge", 92 Saint George's Crescent; Drummoyne, a rambling but commodious waterfront Gothic-style house with extensive grounds and outhouses, cellars and baths on the Parramatta River.

When I was born Papa Saywell was 76 years old. I remember him as a thin, white-bearded old man who walked with a stick. He had broken his leg in a fall down a mine shaft or a lift well and was known as "Stepper Bill" to his Saywell relatives(7). He spent a lot of time sitting on a garden bench admiring the dahlias that had been planted according to his instructions and with his only grandson, John Bourke in the wireless room under the house listening to the crackle of static from a crystal set. On a chest of drawers in his room he kept a mysterious chunk of metal. This was a piece of molybdenite and it was said that he lived in hopes of making his fortune when he found the reef. We all, as children, believed he would, for after all he was an assayer!

In his last years he used to get up very early and wander about the streets of Drummoyne, often being brought back by the milkman. He died a year or so before his daughter May, leaving five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren who loved him. Some of us can remember snatches of a song he used to sing to us:

"The steam arm then began to play,
knocking the Lord Mayor from his chair,
with a too-rah loo-rah lattity,
right too-loo-rah lay."

What was it about? We never knew. It was as mysterious and intriguing as the molybdenite mine.


  1. Letter dated 7 Sept. 1971 from Frenon authorities at the Ville de Calais to John A. Bourke, consulting engineer, Hume St. Crows Nest 2065.
  2. Sydney Morning Herald, Sat. Oct. 7, 1848
  3. The spelling of this Irish name varies greatly. GARATY is the form used on the marriage certificate. GARRITTY is the spelling on the pay list of 28th Regiment of Foot. (Alphabetical "Infantry Abroad" W.C. 12 4444 Mitchell Library)
  4. Roberta Osland of Cronulla, a great grand niece of Mary Garaty has the relevant report from the Maitland Mercury
  5. Joyce Bourke, William Saywell's youngest granddaughter, in some reminiscences she wrote for me in 1976.
  6. R E Wilson of Padstow searched Electoral Rolls for this information.
  7. The late Theo Saywell of Wahroonga reported this nickname.

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