EDWARD SEWELL - 'DANDIFIED SOLICITOR'
by Glennis Sewell
This article was originally published in the August 2013 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
Edward was the first child of Isaac Sewell and Susannah Daniell. Isaac Sewell, born in Halstead Essex in 1787, was a successful lawyer who underwent his initial training with his future father-in-law Mr Samuel Daniell in Colchester, marrying his daughter in 1814. The couple had five children before Susannah tragically died in 1820 at the age of twenty five.
Following this tragedy Isaac moved his family to London where he went on to have a very successful career.
His son Edward, having successfully trained in the Law, decided that he would seek a life further afield and, in 1839, at the age of twenty four, he left his family and friends in London for his new life in Australia. He boarded the Calcutta and arrived in Sydney in September of 1839 after a voyage of just over four months. He remained in Sydney for a period of about ten weeks, during which time he applied to be admitted to the Roll of New South Wales Barristers and Solicitors.
The new settlement of Port Phillip (later Melbourne) was just being developed and Edward and his friend, fellow lawyer Redmond Barry, sailed on the Parkfield from Sydney, arriving in Port Phillip on the 12th November 1839.
Here Edward set himself up with accommodation and began to get to know his surroundings. His initial attempt to make some income came from offering £200 on loan. As money would have been in short supply in Port Phillip at this point he no doubt was able to make a reasonable profit on this sum. The following year he went into partnership with a Mr Postlethwaite in Bourke Street and was able to establish himself on the legal scene.
Several references are found to Edward in writings of the time. The writer of The Chronicles of Early Melbourne one Garryowen, describes Edward as: ‘
… a dashing member of the second branch of the law. He was an intimate friend of Mr Redmond Barry, and mixed up with more than one of the early duelling farces in Melbourne.’
He also describes him as:
‘a dandified solicitor, who attached much importance to the adornments of the outer man.’
This desire to be dashing got Edward into some trouble. In 1842 he decided to grow a moustache, and when he turned up in Court and confronted Judge Willis, who was a formidable fellow, the sight of this new growth caused much consternation in Court and Judge Willis sent him off to get himself clean shaven. This episode is recorded in The Port Phillip Herald newspaper and also by Garryowen in his book.
The paper report read:
‘…while this case was before the court, Mr Sewell, the Solicitor, requested permission to appear for the one of the parties thereto, adding that all the Barristers had been already retained. His Honor remarked, I should like you appeared more like a counsel than a hussar, — for really you almost frighten me out of my wits. Mr Sewell had fresh trimmed his mustache that morning and really looked very fierce.’
In Garryowen’s book, the story was somewhat embellished - and certainly made for a good read. Some one hundred years later, in 1952, the story was reprinted in The Western Mail, along with a suitable illustration to engage the reader’s interest. Once again the story was exaggerated somewhat.
Judge Willis was rather notorious and was eventually sacked by the NSW Government. He returned to England and tried to sue them for his dismissal, but was unsuccessful.
Women were a scarce commodity in the new settlement and this is partly the reason that the men got themselves into some mischief, as most of them were single with too much time on their hands. Cricket teams were soon established to while away the weekends, and Edward was elected to the Committee of Management in 1841 to form the Melbourne Cricket Club.
Very soon rumours spread of duals being fought. It is not known if Edward participated or was just a bystander, but according to Garryowen he was ‘mixed up’ in them.
Edward was also a member of the Mechanic’s Institute which was formed in 1839 and gave a lecture in June of 1840. His subject was ‘Heat’ – perhaps his first Australian summer had influenced his choice of material.
Edward purchased land on Merri Merri Creek, which was close to the centre of the new settlement and so he must have intended to put down roots.
Unfortunately this was not to be. By 1846 Edward was ill with an unknown disease and gradually as the year progressed his health failed him. On the 24th October 1846 he died at home under the care of his friends Dr George Playne and Redmond Barry.
In his Will, signed the day before his death, he stated:
I desire my body to be opened after my decease by my surgeon and examination of the causes of my disease made.
There are no records of a post mortem and his death occurred before the advent of the official death certificate. Would Dr Playne have done a post mortem – possibly not, as this might have been difficult for a friend to undertake?
He was buried in the Old Melbourne Cemetery, but, in c1922, his grave and headstone were shifted to the Fawkner Cemetery, when the old cemetery land was re-used for the Melbourne Markets. The headstone still stands proudly and its transcription is shown below.
Although Edward’s life was short-lived at just 31 years, he seemed to make his mark on the life of Melbourne town in this very early period of its history. He appears to have been quite a colourful character, strutting his stuff in his best outfits, involving himself in the community and sport, and getting up to mischief with his friends.
One wonders what might have been, if fate had not taken a hand in his early death, before he was able to marry and perhaps produce a family. His friend Redmond Barry went on to become a Judge and was duly knighted.
As it stands, he is remembered only briefly by these few valuable references and it is sad to think that he died in the colony of Port Philip, with his friends by his side, but with his family so far away in England. Although his trusted friends would have sent a message back to the family on the first available vessel, it was about five months before the news got through to them. On the 6th April 1847 a notice appeared in The Times to let his family and friends know of his demise.
Edward is a reminder of the many thousands of men who travelled to far flung corners of the globe to start new lives, but who, for one reason or another, were unable to achieve their dreams. Most, as many family historians will discover, are completely untraceable as they left no footprints, but occasionally we are lucky enough to at least have some little knowledge of their life.
Abridged version taken from my book From Pebmarsh to the Swan a story of one branch of the Sewell family of Essex. Published 2011.