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Captain George Tolman Ralls

1838  -  25 January 1927

 

Captain George Tolman Ralls was my great-grandfather's uncle, and was born in Horsey, Bridgewater, Somerset, England, the son of George Ralls (born 16 Sept. 1808) and Mary Toleman (born abt 1811).  Although his mother's surname and my research suggests that his middle name should be Toleman, all other references do not use the 'e'.

The Captain's parents and grandparents were born in Horsey, Bridgewater, Somerset, England, so I assume the Captain was born there, and the prior two generations were from Ashcott, Somerset. 

HIS FAMILY

Young George had 5 sisters (3 older) and 2 brothers (1 older)... Mary Toleman Ralls (b 22 Feb 1832), Jane Ralls (b abt 1834), Julia Ralls (b abt 1836), John Ralls (b 1837), Anna Ralls (b abt 1841), Diane (Dinah) Ralls (b 1845) and Orlando Ralls (b abt 1848).

At this stage I am only guessing, but I think that George's brother John was my great-great-grandfather.

GONE TO SEA

Captain George must have gone to sea at a young age and under an accomplished master, because by early 1870 at the age of 31 he was master of his own vessel, the "Maryborough".  These facts are carved on his first wife's headstone.  (see story of how I came across this amazing find)

THE  "MARYBOROUGH"

From "TheShipsList" archives I have come across a couple of references to the "Maryborough".

The "Maryborough" was originally named the "Robert Parker", and there are accounts of her voyages in a book named "The Passage Makers" by Michael Stammers.  She was renamed "Maryborough" on 10 April 1862 when she was purchased by Baines and Co. of the Blackwall Line.  She was put on the Australia run to Queensland but was never a fast ship.  Although well made she did not make any fast passages to Queensland.

The "Maryborough" sailed from Gravesend, England on 9 December 1869, under the hand of a 31-year-old Captain George Ralls, and arrived in Brisbane on 15 April 1870.  Captain Ralls was accompanied on this journey by his pregnant, 27-year old wife Susan.  Less than six weeks later Susan and newborn infant son George, were dead and buried in the Paddington Cemetery, Brisbane, only to be rediscovered by family 132 years later to the day, and their lives remembered and noted with flowers.  It can only be assumed that Susan and the young George died as a result of childbirth complications.

Susan Ralls (nee Brewer) headstone reads...

 

Sacred to the memory of 

Susan the beloved wife of 

George RALLS master of the ship "Maryborough"  

who departed this life 21st May 1870 aged 27 years 

also George infant son of the above died 13th May 1870 aged 5 days.  

Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions.  John xiv:1,2.

 

The latest (31 May 2002) development in this journey of discovery is some photos of the memorial for Susan (Brewer) Ralls and her son, George, in the Christ Church yard, Milton, Brisbane, Australia.  Many thanks again to Jan Veacock.  The back of the memorial has an image of the angel of death. (Click the photo to view large image)
The potted chrysanthemums were placed on the memorial by a member of the Ralls family and his wife from New Zealand, currently living in Brisbane.  Malcolm Ralls, my ?cousin and Julie D's father, and his wife placed these flowers on the anniversary of Susan's death, 21 May 2002.  It would have been nice to have been there myself but perhaps one day, huh? 

THE  "CITY OF AUCKLAND"

In 1872 Captain Ralls, at the age of 34, was in command of the ship "City of Auckland", not to be confused with another ship called simply "Auckland".

The "City" was a fine new vessel, constructed in 1869 of 5½-inch teak with copper fastening over an iron frame.  

Weighing 780 tons she was built especially for the London to Auckland run, under the supervision of another respected and popular Captain, William Ashby.  The best reference I have for the ship and her life is from a book "White Wings" by Henry Brett, 1924, which I found a 1976 reprint of in the Hamilton Public Library, and I will include that transcript in another page devoted to the ship herself rather than Captain Ralls.  There is also a website with more information on the book and Henry Brett.  

Ashby set sail from London on October 22, 1869 and arrived in Auckland 97 days later on 28 January 1870.  [The "City" showed some good turns of speed on this her first voyage, logging as much as 298 miles and 301 miles for a twenty-four-hour day.  The latter figure works out at a little over 12½ knots - White Wings]  

The "City" was back in London by 14 September 1870, when she again sailed for Auckland.  On board the "City" on her second voyage was a man called William Ferguson Massey who was to become Prime Minister of New Zealand and die in office in 1925 after 13 years as the Premier.  Many years later, in the late 1950s and 60s I went to school with one of Massey's descendants, Philip Massey, now living in Florida.

 A month later the "City", not yet 2 years old, was on fire at the quay in Auckland.  The following is the report from White Wings..."

"SCUTTLED TO SAVE HER

On January 24 1871 at between two and three in the morning, when the City of Auckland was practically a full ship, a fire broke out as she lay alongside the old Queen Street wharf.  Valiant efforts were made to suppress the outbreak, but it was soon seen to be hopeless, and the ship was taken out into the stream and scuttled.  Two days later she was raised and brought alongside of Firth's wharf, Quay Street, where the Northern Roller Mills now (1924) stand, and she sank considerably in the mud. 

When the fire broke out there was a £20,000 cargo under hatches, and forty passengers had engaged berths.  It was believed that the trouble was started among the flax - a material which has been blamed several times since for causing the same sort of mysterious blaze".

The "City" was obviously refloated and made shipshape as Captain Ashby made two more voyages from London to New Zealand, departing September 10 1871 and arriving 20th December, and then again leaving London 31 May 1872 and arriving in Auckland on the 3rd September.   

 

HOW I MET CAPTAIN GEORGE

The story of how I came across the details of George Tolman Ralls is an interesting and exciting story in itself, and I feel I must include those details here as well.

I first heard about Captain Ralls in the early 1990s when I received in the mail some local newspaper clippings from my Aunt Ruth in Levin, New Zealand.  Aunt Ruth is the only sibling of my late father, John.  These clippings told of the wreck of "The City of Auckland" on nearby Otaki Beach in 1878, and the deeds of one Captain George Ralls.  Within these clippings was mention of the Captain being visited in his retirement at the house "Auckland",  Sandford-on-Thames, England, by his nephew Herbert Ralls from Auckland, New Zealand.  Herbert was the name of both my grandfather and great-grandfather, both from Auckland.

Over the next few years I gathered some photocopies of information regarding the wreck from the Otaki Museum, and took some photos with my eldest daughter Chelsea, of the memorial cairn on Otaki Beach.  But that was all that I was able to find about the Captain.

WHEN WAS THE CAPTAIN BORN?
In later years the internet has revealed more information about Captain George, but it was only recently that I have been able to establish the year of his birth.  A search of the internet turned up an article in the Sandford-on-Thames Parish "Link" magazine archives dating from 1991, regarding the "Master Mariner" who lived in "Sandford House", which he had renamed "Auckland".

"Link" reports his headstone inscription as:

In Loving Memory of

GEORGE TOLMAN RALLS

Died January 25th 1927
Aged 80

and of ADELAIDE his wife  

Died July 2nd 1926
Aged 86

This would put his date of birth as 1847, as well as having a wife six years older than himself, not common in those days.

However, another website quotes the Christchurch Press, New Zealand, of 24th March 1927, running an obituary citing the Captain's age at his death as 92.  This would give him a birth date of 1835 and, say, 5 years older than his wife. 

Then I came across a genealogy website by a Phil Alexander in the USA who had family links to George Tolman Ralls.  I suspect that there is a duplicate George Ralls in this file and that the Captain's birth year is stated here as 1840.

Then in early May 2002, I emailed the editor of the Sandford "Link" magazine, Mike Hill, and asked if the headstone was still there and he very kindly found the headstone and sent me the following results...

George Tolman Ralls, died 25 January 1927, aged 88...and

Adelaide Ralls, died 2 July 1935, aged 86.

This would place George's birth year as possibly 1839, if his birthday was before 25 January, otherwise 1838.  
Adelaide was born in 1849.

From now on I will assume that Captain George Tolman Ralls was born in 1838

TWO WIVES
From his headstone we know that Captain George was married to Adelaide when he died, and from various sources that they had a son Frederick Hamilton Ralls, born about 1888, who was to become an Army Captain and lose his life in World War 1.

It would appear, however, that George had been married before to a Susan Brewer who died tragically in Brisbane, Australia, 21st May 1870, from the complications of childbirth perhaps, and losing their infant son George who died a week earlier than his mother on 13 May 1870 aged 5 days.  

This information came to me via a fluke when I spotted an article in a genealogy website newsletter, from Jan Veacock in Brisbane, Australia.  I have copied excerpts from that newsletter and my subsequent correspondence with Jan:- 

  • Headstones, Epitaphs and Education
    By Jan Veacock   
    Teacher Brisbane Urban Environmental
    Education Centre, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

"I teach in an environmental education centre in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. One of our historical programmes is conducted in a "memorial garden" next to Christ Church, an Anglican church in inner Brisbane and close to the site of the large Paddington cemetery, which closed in the late 19th century.

While many of the headstones (and coffins) were removed to the new
cemetery at Toowong when the cemetery closed, more than 550 headstones
were collected and stacked domino fashion in the grounds of the church.
During the Great Depression, nearly 530 of the headstones were smashed
to make roadfill as a "work for the dole" scheme. Only 20 are left in
this garden.
The "tough" high school students (ages 12-15) who complete the programme find some of the epitaphs moving.  One of the students who completed the programme recently was very "cool"... until we actually arrived at the garden. 

He then was assigned the headstone of Susan RALLS nee BREWER and her son George RALLS to further study.  Susan RALLS died on 21 May 1870, aged 27;  George died 13 May 1870, aged 5 days.

The student was quite upset that a child had died that young and that
his mother had died from complications of childbirth. When it was
pointed out to him that of the 40-odd people commemorated in the garden, 11 of them died before their fifth birthdays, he was appalled."

EXCITING FIND...

After emailing Jan I received the following information...

  •  "Dear Graham,
    Thanks for your message. Isn't it amazing how things work?  I included the name RALLS in the article only because the headstone is the only one where death of the person can be inferred. and it fitted the article!
    Susan RALLS died on 21 May 1870 and George died on 13 May 1870 (b. 8 May 1870) so it could be construed that she died in childbirth. I can not find any mention of George RALLS senior in the Queensland registers after her death so perhaps he returned to England or wherever.
    The headstone is the usual gothic shaped headstone carved from sandstone.  It's in pretty good shape considering how old it is.  The headstone reads:  

Sacred to the memory of 

Susan the beloved wife of 

George RALLS master of the ship "Maryborough"  

who departed this life 21st May 1870 aged 27 years 

also George infant son of the above died 13th May 1870 aged 5 days.  

Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions.  John xiv:1,2.


Susan's parents were Samuel BREWER and Martha _____________.  There were no other children born in Queensland to Susan and George.

  • "THE CEMETERY was once the Paddington cemetery and is now totally covered by the Lang Park stadium (now called Suncorp Metway stadium) which is the hallowed turf of Queensland Rugby League.
    Christ Church, built in 1876, is on the corner of Hale Street and Chippendall Streets, Milton, about one and a half kilometres from the centre of Brisbane's Central business district and is about to be overshadowed completely by the new development at the Suncorp stadium..."

My thanks to Jan for her time in dealing with an excited Kiwi and his rambling emails.

Continuing...

 

 

 

This page was last edited 20 Jun 2002 .

 


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© Copyright Graham Ralls, 1May 2002 - 24 Aug 2003