Lost Man, Found

Ever since I wrote about Thomas Casbon (b. 1840) of Peterborough, I’ve been wondering what happened to him.

You may recall that Thomas was fished out of the Thames in Greenwich and admitted to the Greenwich Union after an apparent suicide attempt in 1871.[1] Thomas was estranged from his wife, who had filed for divorce in 1868.[2] Possibly distraught over his failed marriage, his plunge into the Thames was also fueled by excessive alcohol.[3]

Thomas disappeared from public records after that incident, and in 1900, his son, Charles Wheeley Casbon, was granted the right to administer his estate under the presumption that Thomas had died “in or since May 1887.”[4] In other words, there was no evidence that Thomas had been seen or heard from in the previous thirteen years.

My interest in Thomas was re-awakened about two weeks ago when I was idly browsing through a database of deaths in Victoria, Australia. The record showed that a man named Thomas Casbon, age 50, died in Brighton, Victoria, in 1889.[5]

Screen shot from MyHeritage.com

Was this the same Thomas? The age was just about right – our Thomas was born in early 1840. I decided to look in other Australia databases to see if I could gather any additional information. I found him again, living in Ryde, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, in 1887.[6]

Entry for Thomas Casbon in Sands’s Sydney & Suburban Directory for 1887 (Click on image to enlarge)

Notably, his occupation was listed as nurseryman. This is a key piece of evidence, since Thomas of Peterborough was also a nurseryman. He was the third generation of Peterborough gardeners, about whom I have written previously.[7] Given this clue along with the fact that there is no evidence of Thomas remaining in England, we can be reasonably certain that the Australian Thomas was our man from Peterborough.

Further searching shows that he appears in the 1888 directory at the same address. He does not appear in a directory any earlier than 1887 or later than 1888. This supports the idea that he was the man who died in 1889.

In addition to the directories above, he appears in a different kind of record. In October 1886 he was jailed for seven days in Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney, for drunkenness.[8] He was jailed again for the same offense in January 1887.[9] It seems that Thomas did not have a healthy relationship with alcohol.

Entrance to Darlinghurst Gaol, 1887; State Library of NSW (Click on image to enlarge)

There is also a police report of a “Silver English lever hunting watch” being stolen from Thomas Casbin in March 1886. It’s likely this is also our Thomas.[10] If so, this is the earliest record I have found of him in Australia.

I searched through various passenger lists prior to 1887 but could not find any entries for Thomas, so we don’t know when he departed England or arrived in Australia.

There are still many unanswered questions. Where was Thomas between 1871 and 1886? When and why did he leave England? What was he doing in Brighton, Victoria (almost 450 miles from Ryde) when he died and how did he die? (I could get an answer to this last question if I paid $24.50 for a copy of the death certificate, but my curiosity doesn’t run that deep!)


Map showing locations of Ryde, New South Wales and Brighton, Victoria; Google Maps™
(scroll to zoom)

One thing is evident: Thomas’ estranged family had lost touch with him by May 1887. Did they know he had gone to Australia? Did he break off communication or did they?Something seems to have gone wrong in Thomas’ life. He was a troubled man, and perhaps not a very nice one.

The last record I have of Thomas other than his death is a report of an unclaimed letter addressed to him in Ashfield, another suburb of Sydney. The letter was waiting for him in the Sydney General Post Office as of January 15, 1889.[11] It was sent from within the colony. The contents of the letter, like much of his life, remains a mystery.

[1] “Greenwich,” The (London) Standard, 12 April 1871, p. 7, col. 5; online image, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000183/18710412/053/0007 : accessed 24 September 2016).
[2] “England & Wales, Civil Divorce Records, 1858-1916,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2465/40243_612057_1776-00000 : accessed 24 February 2018), wife’s petition, Emily Casbon, 1868; citing The National Archives, J77/84/787, Kew.
[3] “Greenwich,” The (London) Standard, 12 April 1871, p. 7, col. 5.
[4] United Kingdom, Calendar of Wills and Administrations 1900, n.p., Casbon, Thomas, “in or since May 1887”; “Find a will,” searchable database, Gov.UK (https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills : accessed 20 September 2018).
[5] “Australia, Victoria Death Index, 1836-1985,” database, MyHeritage Library Edition (accessible through participating libraries: 10 September 2018), Thomas Casbon, 1880, Brighton; citing The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria.
[6] “Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858-1933,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1164  : accessed 10 September 2018), 1887 >C >image 4 of 22, p. 523, col. 3, Casbon, Thomas, nurseryman, Parramatta rd, Ryde; citing W. & F. Pascoe Pty, Ltd, Balgowlah.
[7] Jon Casbon, “How doth your garden grow? Part 2,” Our Casbon Journey, 27 September 2016 (https://casbonjourney.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/how-doth-your-garden-grow-part-2/ ).
[8] New South Wales, Australia, Darlinghurst, (Gaol) Entrance Book, 1886, 11 Oct, no. 9751, Thomas Casbon; imaged as “New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1783 : accessed10 September 2018), Entrance Book >Darlinghurst >1886 >image 249 of 387; citing State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood.
[9] New South Wales, Australia, Darlinghurst, (Gaol) Entrance Book, 1887, 10 Jan, no. 293, Thomas Casbon; imaged as “New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930,” Ancestry (cited previously), Entrance Book >Darlinghurst >1887 >image 18 of 391.
[10] New South Wales, Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime, 1886, no. 11 (17 March), p. 82 (“Watches and Jewellery, &c. Reported Stolen”), 10 Mar, Thomas Casbin; imaged as “New South Wales, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1854-1930,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1942 : accessed 10 September 2018), 1886 >image 61 of 227; citing State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood.
[11] New South Wales, Australia, Supplement to the New South Wales Government Gazette, 1889, no. 146 (9 March), p. 1883, no. 151, Thos. Casbon, Ashfield; imaged as “New South Wales, Australia, Government Gazettes, 1853-1899,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2172 : 10 September 2018), 1889 >January-March >image 1909 of 2503; citing State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood.

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